UT's Bruce Pearl on loss to Miss. State
Has Bruce Pearl run out of answers?
The Tennessee men’s basketball team has made five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and has more wins than any other SEC program since Pearl took over the program some six years ago.
But inconsistent performances this season and an ongoing case with the NCAA has the Vols coach flustered.
“Another disappointing Saturday,’’ Pearl said, opening his post-game news conference after a 70-69 loss to Mississippi State at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday.
Pearl cited a lack of leadership and on-court chemistry on the offensive end of the floor as the primary reasons behind his team’s inability to get any kind of momentum as the postseason approaches.
The Vols (17-12, 7-7 SEC) next play at South Carolina (14-13, 5-9) at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Pearl said Sunday that “if our shooters hit one more open shot apiece, we’re sitting in a pretty good position.’’
But he also said he realizes more changes could be necessary to get the team playing at peak level.
But what are those changes?
“If I knew what to do, I would have been doing it,’’ Pearl said when asked that question after Saturday’s game.
Suffice it to say, that’s not the kind of answer the UT fan base is accustomed to getting from Pearl.
But then, the Vols are one loss short of equaling Pearl’s high at UT, which occurred two seasons ago, when Tennessee went 21-13 and was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
That team, much like the current one, struggled to replace key players who had moved on and lacked consistency.
While Pearl’s teams have typically evolved, with different lineups at different points of the season, this season’s group has failed to take positive steps.
“We have got some good individuals, some really good kids,’’ Pearl said. “But we have a lot of parity. We have a lot of guys that aren’t much different or better than one another.’’
That has led Pearl to foster a team identity of defense and rebounding — two elements of the game he said players can control with effort and execution.
Offensively, it has been a different matter.
From an offensive skill standpoint, Pearl has pointed out that UT has only two consistent threats, junior Scotty Hopson and freshman Tobias Harris. After that one-two scoring punch, there has been a significant drop-off.
“We need that third option,’’ Pearl said. “Who’s going to be that third option?’’
The game plan typically calls for junior wing Cameron Tatum.
However, Tatum was 2-of-8 shooting in the loss to Mississippi State, 1-of-7 shooting against Vanderbilt, and 1-of-5 shooting against Georgia.
Pearl could opt to start senior Josh Bone in place of Tatum, but it’s unlikely the distribution of minutes would change significantly, and it might amount to just shuffling the pieces only to end up with the same sum.
Pearl’s prior two moves were to reinstate freshman Trae Golden as the backup point guard and start playing sophomore transfer Jeronne Maymon at power forward.
Golden had strong performance against Vanderbilt, showing playmaking skills. But against Mississippi State, his performance but was inadequate and he got pulled again in favor of sophomore Skylar McBee.
Maymon, the 6-7, 258-pound transfer from Marquette, has shown flashes of brilliance rebounding and going to the rim, but he has been inaccurate from the free-throw line (3-of-14).
In his past two appearances, against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, Maymon has provided a spark.
But there haven’t been enough sparks across the board to set UT ablaze with momentum.
It’s up to Pearl to find more answers.