The key to any college basketball team's late postseason tournament run is depth.
Sure, a few sure-fire No. 1 seeds plow through their regional brackets like steamrollers, all the while immune to the upset bug in the play of their "fab five" or six players who can score, rebound and play big defense. Besides that, a team better have a bench that is always ready to produce and come up big, especially when the shots aren't falling for the starters.
For Vols hoops this season, the word "consistency" has not been in style. Just when Scotty Hopson finds his groove, the bench stops producing. Just when the lineup is reconfigured and a spark has ignited the team's offensive production, the flame is put out in a gut-busting defeat. We saw it early in the year in December, if you recall the relapses against Oakland, Charlotte and USC all in a row ... And it happened again.
But poor play wasn't consistent either. No play was. Tennessee crushed Memphis at home and then flopped against Arkansas on the road, the same team the Big Orange is playing in the first round of the SEC Tournament this Thursday. Then a demoralizing overtime defeat to Florida created some needed motivation for the first of two wins this season against cross-state rival Vanderbilt. Then another win against Georgia. The next game, you ask? A disheartening loss at the hands (or feet, rather) of Connecticut.
See the overall trend this season exhibits? One win to the next loss, two losses to the next win. It has been that type of season for the Tennessee Volunteers on the hardwood.
We've all heard about the drama this season with the SEC's strict sanctions on head coach Bruce Pearl before the NCAA had even mentioned word of its handlings of recruiting violations, which will be announced this June. My point is that it is a waste of time and tomfoolery to get caught in all that mess and to point fingers as to why UT has not had more W's on the stat sheet this season; it's something simpler than that.
The players surrounding Scotty Hopson, Tobias Harris and Brian Williams in large part have not filled in the gaps where past players did, most recently the way these starting three did when Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith were here. The gap, therefore, remains wide in most games when Hopson is producing and Harris is rebounding, but there is no combustible spark, no player stepping up consistently in a role off the bench to score points and take pressure off the Vols, Hopson and Co.
During the season, a number of players like Josh Bone, Skylar McBee, Trae Golden and Kenny Hall were called to step up after changes to the point guard position moved spots around and changed players' minutes. Consistency wasn't found in the end, which has left the Vols a bubble team heading into this postseason.
A prime example of this stuck out like a sore thumb on the stat sheet after Saturday's loss to Kentucky. In a combined effort of 49 total minutes, Golden, McBee, Stephen Pearl, Bone and Jeronne Maymon combined for one point: a Maymon free throw. This is about as much as Allan Houston scored during the game, with his daughter in hand. Off the stat sheet, their effort, defensive play and ball handling is unquestionably valuable to the Vols, but what the Vols really need heading into the postseason is a guy who can consistently score coming off the bench.
There's no telling what kind of Tennessee team we will see against Arkansas this Thursday, whether it be an explosive one with a mission or a scrappy version barely eking out a win, but one thing is for sure: The Vols must find their depth immediately.
— Colin Skinner is a junior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.