Can Tennessee participate in the NCAA tournament?


Welcome to the first questionable discussion in Volunteer Country, where our team of writers will break down five key questions about Tennessee athletics that week.

This week focuses on Tennessee men's basketball and the last season from top to bottom

1. Will the recent success of Santiago Vescovi be sustainable in the long term?

Cory Sanning (@CorySanning): Vescovi's game is based on his ability to shoot, a skill that is difficult to lose for any player. Using a shot that is extremely effective, the first year goalkeeper found ways to translate this into success while putting the ball on the ground, whether by scoring in the paint or finding open teammates. Not to mention that it is also reducing its turnover, so there is no reason to believe that it cannot continue like this.

Jacob Boughter (@jacob_boughter): Yes. Vescovi is a brilliant passer and the threat of his jump shot means that the defense cannot afford to play against it or go under the screens. This jump is doubly important, because it also helps to open lanes for Santi and his teammates despite his average speed for a leader. On the other side of the ball, Vescovi can accumulate interceptions, but I would like to see a bit more of his defense on the ball. Santi is a future Flying star, which is crazy to say about someone who's only been on campus for six weeks.

Quinton Douglas (@_QuintonDouglas): Absolutely. Vescovi was plunged into a difficult situation. Now that it adjusts, the game starts to happen to it. He's not your typical Rick Barnes playmaker who attacks you with speed, but his shot is where he beats you. He has already touched a three-point pointer in his 12 games as a Vol, and he does so at a 38% percentage point while knocking down two per game.

2. Are Jordan Bowden's struggles just a mental thing at this point?

Sun tanning: Without a doubt, they are completely a byproduct of excessive thinking. Bowden is one of the smoothest shooters in the distance and inside the conference. His explosive athleticism allows him to finish on the ledge with authority and easily rise on the defenders. He has the ability to strike any blow to the ground, and I have no doubt that he will come back to it eventually.

Boughter: I'm going to have to disagree with Cory and say no here. Personally, I think Bowden is just a bit outdone in his current role with the Flights. Bowden can be an elite role player for a team as a 3-D guy and play as hard as anyone you find in the country, but I don't think you wanted him to be your offensive hub.

Douglas: After Lamonte Turner's fall, I thought it was a difficult transition for Bowden not to have a playmaker. As a result, he was counted on to lead the offensive and he started to force many shots at disputed jump. His shot percentages suffered a lot and this limited the offense in key games. Bowden is undoubtedly a great player, but for this team, he must fulfill a role that does not suit his game. I do not question his mentality, because his efforts and his will are always there.

3. How disappointed was Uros Plavsic?

Sun tanning: A large. Right or wrong, Plavsic is a 7-foot, 240-pound mammoth that was apparently Tennessee's answer to all of its problems. Not enough. Plavsic has struggled with his mobility as he continues to adjust to the speed of play at the college level, which has earned him 13 minutes combined in the last two games. It has not demonstrated its ability to systematically defend the rim or score in the paint, and given its size, this is a HUGE problem.

Boughter: Yeah ... the Uros Plavsic experience hasn't been too great yet. Fortunately for us, Flight fans, Plavsic still has three years of eligibility, but this season, the great Serb has not proven that he should be a major player in the rotation of Tennessee. Until Plavsic proves that he can still strike that little hook he loves so much or effectively resist other big men in defense, Olivier Nkamhoua should be ahead of him in the depth chart.

Douglas: I don’t think it’s fair to call Uros Plavsic a disappointment right now. Clearly, at the start of the season, the Flights urgently needed pruning in the middle after the off-season roster was renewed. Plavsic is the only 7-foot lineup, but he's also just a freshman, so I think there may have been unreal expectations piled up on his plate. He made his first steps in college basketball at the SEC. It's just going to take him a while to develop. I’m not ready to give it up yet.

4. Should Barnes continue to look to Jalen Johnson for a key role?

Sun tanning: In short, absolutely. Johnson's work ethic has been well documented over the past year. He is always the first on the ground before matches and usually one of the last to leave him. It provides length around the perimeter and has demonstrated its ability to shoot outside shots consistently. With Turner gone for the year, Johnson offers a great option when Bowden, Josiah-Jordan James or Vescovi head to the bench.

Boughter: Yes! As basketball evolves, it becomes clear that two of the best features a player can have are outdoor shooting to space the floor and the ability to defend multiple positions. Villanova, in particular, used this formula with players like Donte Divincenzo and Mikal Bridges to win two national championships. Johnson is perhaps the best three-point shooter of this Tennessee squad, and although he is not exactly a defensive stopper, he has come a long way on this side of the ball this season. At the very least, Johnson can space the floor to give other players in the Tennessee perimeter more room to function. A situation at best for Johnson could see him evolve into a top-notch 3-D guy. Johnson has the potential to be a key glue guy for the Flights, and Barnes should definitely keep looking for his way.

Douglas: I don’t think he’s quite ready for a key role yet. Johnson has shown that he is capable of shooting, and we also know that he is quite athletic. My blow on his game is his consistency. Shooting is valued in this game, where he needs this team, but in his action this year, he just couldn't do it night after night. One positive point is that he takes care of basketball and rarely returns it. With a little luck, he will be able to go up the slope and consolidate his role with this team.

5. Will Tennessee participate in the NCAA tournament?

Sun tanning: It's a difficult question to answer at this point, but I think Flights will find a way to sneak in. Vescovi is starting to get pretty reliable and Bowden's confidence will only come back over time. Tennessee has a tough stretch ahead of it, but UT will win enough to make the big dance as the seed. I reserve the right to change this later, however.

Boughter: May be? I mean, Florida was a 10 seeded seed last year at 19-15. The good news for Tennessee is that they have a lot of potential wins in Quadrant 1, including games with Auburn and Kentucky. On the other hand, playing a difficult schedule means nothing if you lose to all the good teams you have faced. Tennessee could improbably sneak into March Madness even without winning the SEC tournament, but they'll have to play the way they did against Arkansas more often if they want to avoid the NIT.

Douglas: This is a difficult question. Overall, this team doesn’t really have a win at this point in the season. They will have lots of opportunities on the stretch as they still have road games in Auburn and Kentucky and Auburn at home again to close the season. I think that to enter, they have to win at least two of their three games against these teams. If that happens, it must mean that they find their rhythm and play some of their best basketballs. At this point I am more confident that this is not happening and they are missing the big dance.

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