JOE BIDDLE: Vols fail to finish

UT Vols Basketball Sports Generic
(Graphic: WKRN)

Bracketeers predict Southeastern Conference teams will get only three invitations to the Big Dance in March.

I have been cautiously confident that with 14 teams, surely the SEC would get more than three teams.

Barring miracles, I have to agree with the bracket masters.

As late as this weekend, I thought Tennessee and Vanderbilt were still alive to go dancing in the postseason parade.

Well, Vanderbilt lost to Missouri by 20 points in a pathetic showing on the road. The Commodores sank under the .500 point in the win-loss record data.

They are now 12-13 overall and have won only five of 12 games against SEC teams. It has been a rough road for first-year coach Bryce Drew, a basketball junkie that I believe is better than the record indicates.

Tennessee was picked by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi to be one of the last four teams to make the NCAA Tournament Field.

That was before the Vols lost a 14-point second half lead to Georgia and proceeded to lose to a Bulldogs team that had lost five of its last six games under Coach Mark Fox.

The 76-75 loss hurt more than the Vols football team that lost to South Carolina and Vanderbilt to end its East Division’s title hopes.
Coach Rick Barnes’ team built a 14-point lead in the second half, before Mark Fox received a technical foul. It sent the Dawgs on an 18-8 run to stop the bleeding.

Barnes noted the Bulldogs shot a tick under 52 percent from the floor while the Vols shot only 41.9 percent. Barnes said that was the difference in winning or losing.

Georgia’s freshman guard J.J. Frazier was a thorn in the Vols’ skin. He made NBA moves with his speed and ability to drive the basketball for buckets. He finished with 29 points.

Vols freshman Grant Williams equaled his best offensive output with 30 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the field.

It is the freshmen and sophomores that will form the nucleus of the Vols’ future. The freshmen were responsible for 57.3 percent of Tennessee scoring with 43 points.

“It’s bittersweet,’’ Williams said of his 30-point performance. “Points really didn’t matter that much to me. I really wanted to win. Not getting it really hurt, but we’ve got to worry about Kentucky, move on and keep it going.’’

The unranked Vols came into this game with a 1-5 record against Top 25 ranked opponents in the AP and Coaches’ polls.

In the NCAA RPI rankings, Tennessee was at No. 39. If they had been able to finish with a flourish, they would be in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament.

The Vols get no rest, as they travel to Kentucky Tuesday night. They come home for Missouri and Vanderbilt before going to South Carolina and LSU. They complete the regular season at home against Alabama.
“Tough loss, but at this time of the year you have to get ready to play another game,’’ Barnes said.

It’s all there was to say.

Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He can be reached at joebiddle11@gmail.com.