ATHENS, Ga. — The Tennessee Volunteers will try to bounce back from Wednesday's 80-63 loss at Georgia when they complete a two-game road swing in Southeastern Conference basketball Saturday at Vanderbilt.
The Vols (10-6, 2-2) were coming off back-to-back wins against Missouri and South Carolina heading into Stegeman Coliseum, but the Bulldogs (11-5, 1-2) shook off consecutive losses to Kentucky and Auburn by sprinting past Tennessee.
Saturday's game at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville is set to tip off at 6 p.m. EST and will be televised by the SEC Network. The Commodores (8-8, 0-3) have lost 23 straight conference games.
Here are three observations from the Vols' loss at Georgia:
1. Rotational trial-and-error: You can't accuse Tennessee coach Rick Barnes of a lack of effort when it came to trying to find a quality quintet to put on the court Wednesday night. In the first half, the Vols used 10 combinations, including having forwards John Fulkerson and Uros Plavsic on the court at the same time and, at one point, a lineup that included four freshmen. The best five in the first half against the Bulldogs featured Josiah-Jordan James at the point, Jordan Bowden, Jalen Johnson and Yves Pons on the perimeter and Fulkerson in the interior. That group posted a plus-7 rating in 2 minutes and 51 seconds of game time, but that was at the very beginning of the contest. The best lineup in the second half had Bowden running the offense, with Johnson and Pons on the wings and Fulkerson and Plavsic sharing the duties inside. That lineup outscored Georgia 9-3 over the final 3:48.
2. Plavsic impact: Results were mixed for Plavsic, the redshirt freshman and former Hamilton Heights player from Serbia who made his long-awaited Tennessee debut Wednesday. The Arizona State transfer mostly struggled on offense, which could be a combination of him playing tight and the Bulldogs defending well, although Barnes praised Plavsic's work to get open in the post. His first shot, a baby hook over his left shoulder, was short. He scored his first basket on a nice post-up move and finished a left-handed hook in the second half, but he also short-armed a couple of shots. Defensively, he appeared lost at times, getting beat to the basket for some easy layups, and overall he posted a minus-15 in 17 minutes on the court. However, for someone who didn't even know he was playing until about 24 hours before tipoff and admitted he "didn't sleep" Tuesday night, there was some promise. It will be interesting to see how he is used in the rotation the rest of the season.
3. Too slow: Barnes has been imploring his point guards to play a lot faster in transition, but James and Santiago Vescovi — Tennessee's other recent addition — have struggled to do that so far. The Vols can't score consistently in the half-court game — they're just not big enough inside or dynamic enough on the perimeter — so they need to steal the quick and easy points in transition where they can. The fastest they played at Georgia was in the final stretch of the game with James and Vescovi in the lineup and Bowden, a senior, at point guard. It appears the freshman point guards are processing what's in front of them and not always trusting what they see, though, which has led to them holding on to the ball too long. For this team to be successful, that just can't happen.