Tennessee basketball ushered in a new era on Saturday, only this one did not come by way of choice.
Jalen Johnson said it best when, following UT’s 68-48 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday, he claimed that the Vols were missing more than just Lamonte Turner’s play on the court.
He’d be right, too.
Rick Barnes May disagree, but Tennessee’s offense did not look the same from the moment it took the court on Saturday.
“We’ve struggled on offense with Lamonte, so that has nothing to do with it,” Barnes said after I asked him if Turner’s absence had anything to do with the Vols’ struggles on that side of the ball.
He’s not wrong, but he’s not necessarily completely right, either.
Yes, Tennessee’s offense has struggled during times when Turner was on the court. Yes, the Vols did not always consistently produce points.
But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a reliable person to go through down the stretch. That doesn’t mean that when the going got tough, they didn’t have someone to get them going.
With Turner’s collegiate career now finished due to thoracic outlet syndrome, Tennessee is in desperate need of a reliable scorer, a “killer” if you will, to turn to in crunch time.
For awhile, I thought Jordan Bowden could be that guy. In fact, I still believe that he is that guy.
Just not here, not right now.
Will it take a few more games of this for the Vols to find their way? Possibly. UT hosts LSU on Saturday to kick off conference play, and their schedule doesn’t get any easier from that point.
Showdowns with the likes of Florida, Auburn and Kentucky loom, and it does not appear that Tennessee will be up to the challenge...yet.
Freshman guard Josiah-Jordan James has the ability to play point guard. Bowden does as well, and who knows how effective Davonte Gaines will be in due time?
The fact remains, however, that the Vols were ranked just over a week ago. They no longer have that luxury to lean on.
In the most recent AP Top 25, Tennessee received just 24 votes. Not Vols-esque if you look at the last two seasons.
Using last year as an example, however, is somewhat unfair.
Of Tennessee’s returning rotational players from last year, just Jordan Bowden and Yves Pons remain. Jalen Johnson is beginning to find a groove, but will his contributions be enough consistently?
Given UT’s development of players such as Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield in recent years, it’d be rather safe to assume similar results will begin to show with this young core.
That poses another question: just how long will it take?
The Vols are entering the thick of the college basketball season without their leader and emotional anchor.
It was already going to be difficult enough without key pieces from last year’s group. Adding Turner to that list only makes the mountain climb steeper.
As if it wasn’t steep enough to begin with.