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Tennessee’s late game execution is what has cost them wins, not just Melvin Goins

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On Saturday, Tennessee fell to 5-5 in the SEC with a 61-60 loss to Florida, putting them three games off of the Gator’s pace with just six left to play.

Bruce Pearl has his theories as to why the teams is struggling — point guard play:

“We have to have better point guard play, so there could be some changes,” Pearl said. “Right now, it’s Melvin Goins and Trae Golden. It could have to be Skylar McBee or Josh Bone. That could be in the cards against South Carolina.”

Agree or disagree, he has a point. Goins has handed out just two assists in the past three games.

But that may not be the Vols’ biggest problem this season. Tennessee has lost their last three games, but pinning fault on Goins, who was never a great playmaker to begin with, isn’t necessarily right. (Although, after a last second loss to Florida, Pearl said that Goins didn’t run the play he called on the final possession, which is a bigger issue.)

Looking at Tennessee’s schedule, they have not been blown out all that often. In fact, there have been eight games in which Tennessee had the ball on their final possession with either a chance to tie or a chance to win the game. They’ve only won two — against Belmont and at Georgia, on a bucket that looked like an obvious over-the-back on Brian Williams.

I went back and watched the tape of all eight of Tennessee’s game-deciding possessions:

  • 12/17 – Charlotte 49, Tennessee 48: Charlotte scores with 7.4 seconds left in the game to go up one. Tennessee inbounds the ball and pushes the other way, but Cameron Tatum gets stopped just across half court. Pearl uses a timeout with 3.3 seconds left. The play they run on the inbounds is Tatum hits Williams a good 30 feet from the basket. He then runs off Williams, who hands the ball to Tatum for a 35 footer at the buzzer and hits nothing but back board.
  • 12/21 – USC 65, Tennessee 64: Maurice Jones misses a tough runner with 12 seconds left on the clock. Pearl doesn’t want to use a timeout, so Melvin Goins pushes the other way. He gives it back to Cam Tatum who is trapped and forced to call a timeout just over half court with 3.5 seconds left. The play that is called is for Tobias Harris, who sets a flare screen and cuts to the top of the key. The defender doesn’t bite, which forces Harris to catch the ball 40 feet from the basket. He takes to hard, right-handed dribbles and misses a pull-up three from 25 feet on the right wing off the back iron.
  • 12/23 – Tennessee 66, Belmont 65: Scotty Hopson gets isolated on the right wing 25 feet from the rim. He catches and immediately drives right. He beats his man with two dribbles and gets all the way to the rim for a finger roll with 5.7 seconds left. Tennessee gets a stop and holds on for the win.
  • 1/8 – Arkansas 68, Tennessee 65: The Vols get the ball after a missed free throw with 19 seconds left. Tony Jones (Bruce Pearl is suspended at this point) has no timeouts left, so Melvin Goins brings the ball up. He dribbles the clock out, trying to penetrate, before hitting John Fields in the paint. Fields nearly loses the ball before kicking it back out to Goins. Goins is swarmed, and as the clock is running out he hits Tobias Harris in the corner, who is wide open. But there isn’t much time left as Harris rushes a three (its questionable whether he even got it off in time) and sends an airball long.
  • 1/13 – Florida 81, Tennessee 75 OT: At the end of regulation, Tennessee has the ball with timeouts available and six more seconds on the game clock than the shot clock. Goins dribbles out the clock before hitting Hopson on the left wing. Hopson immediately has two defenders run at him, so he dumps the ball down to Brian Williams on the left block. Williams fades and shoots a baby hook, but he leaves enough space for Alex Tyus to block the shot. Florida gains control, and calls a timeout for a chance to win. Obviously, the game ended up going to overtime.
  • 1/18 – Tennessee 59, Georgia 57: Tennessee has the ball on the final possession. Hopson is isolated on the left wing. He drives middle, draws a defender, and kicks the ball out to Goins. Goins then drives middle, but has no space. Harris manages to free himself in the corner. He airballs a three, but Williams grabs the offensive rebound and puts the ball back in. Williams looks like he goes over the Georgia defenders back, but no call is made. Tennessee wins at the buzzer.
  • 2/5 – Alabama 65, Tennessee 60 OT: At the end of regulation, after forcing a turnover, Tennessee calls a timeout just over half court. The ball they design is a isolation for Harris of the left block. Skylar McBee throws the entry pass. Harris is immediately double teamed. He kicks the ball out to McBee who swings it to Goins at the top of the key. Goins takes a 23 foot, contested three off the catch, but misses. Williams misses a tip-in, and the Vols lost in overtime.
  • 2/12 – Florida 61, Tennessee 60: After Erving Walker drives and finishes a tough, left-handed layup over the Vol defense with 17 seconds left, Bruce Pearl opts against using a timeout. Instead, he calls for a high screen and roll between Goins and Harris. Goins comes off the screen, but there is no space. So he steps back and takes a contested three. He misses as time expires, and the Vols once again lost a winnable game late.

You can blame Goins if you would like, but in eight situations where Tennessee had a chance to win a game or force overtime on their final possession, they managed to get one good shot — maybe two, if you think Harris shooting a three from the corner a good shot.

Granted, some of that has to fall onto Goins’ shoulders. He’s the point guard, he’s the playmaker, and he had the ball in his hands in a number of those late game situations. But some of it falls on Pearl’s and Jones’ shoulders as well. Part of the lack of late game execution is a lack of late game coaching and poor play design.

Regardless of what you believe or who you want to blame, Tennessee’s inability to execute late in games is what has cost them this season. They could easily be 8-2 or 9-1 in the SEC right now, with two wins over the Florida Gators.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

VIDEO: No. 7 Creighton beats No. 22 Xavier, loses all-american Mo Watson to a knee injury

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Creighton point guard Mo Watson was carried off of the Cintas Center floor on Monday afternoon after an ugly-looking injury in the first half.

Watson drove the lane and landed on his left leg. He immediately grabbed the knee in clear distress:

The Bluejays would hold on to win a thrilling, hard-fought game, 72-67, without Watson. That’s impressive, and it means that they move into a tie for first place in the Big East with Villanova, but the story of this game was Watson.

According to a reporter at the game, Watson told head coach Gregg McDermott that he “heard it pop“. Losing Watson to any significant injury would be catastrophic for the No. 8 Bluejays. Watson entered Monday averaging 13.4 points and a nation’s-best 8.8 assists. He’s been in the top ten of our Player of the Year Power Rankings all season long, is a clear-cut candidate for an all-american team and is the engine for the high-powered offense that has made Creighton a Final Four contender.

The injury may be somewhat controversial as well. Two minutes before the video clip above, Watson banged knees with a Xavier defender and had to be helped off of the floor. He was tested on the sideline and allowed to return to the game, albeit with a noticeable limp.

So now we wait for Gregg McDermott to give us an update. For what it’s worth, Watson came out for the second half on crutches but was on the bench hopping up and down and bending the knee while celebrating the win.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Kansas vaults to No. 1

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates with Frank Mason III #0 after making a three-pointer during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas vaulted up to the No. 1 spot in the Coaches Poll for the first time this season, receiving 23 of the 32 first place votes.

Villanova comes in at No. 2 while UCLA, Gonzaga and Kentucky finish up the top five. Bay.or, who was No. 1 in the country last week, is No. 6 while Duke fell all the way to No. 18 with a pair of losses last week.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

1. Kansas (23 first-place votes)
2. Villanova (4)
3. UCLA (2)
4. Gonzaga (3)
5. Kentucky
6. Baylor
7. Creighton
8. West Virginia
9. North Carolina
10. Oregon
11. Louisville
12. Florida State
13. Arizona
14. Butler
15. Notre Dame
16. Virginia
17. Wisconsin
18. Duke
19. Xavier
20. Cincinnati
21. Florida
22. Purdue
23. Saint Mary’s
24. South Carolina
25. Maryland

College Basketball AP Top 25: Villanova is back to the top spot

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Temple Owls at The Pavilion on December 13, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Temple Owls 78-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Villanova vaulted back into the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll after falling out for a week when they lost at Creighton.

Kansas comes in at No. 2 while UCLA, Gonzaga and Kentucky finish up the top five. Bay.or, who was No. 1 in the country last week, is No. 6 while Duke fell all the way to No. 18 with a pair of losses last week.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

1. Villanova (28 first-place votes)
2. Kansas (32)
3. UCLA (3)
4. Gonzaga (2)
5. Kentucky
6. Baylor
t-7. Creighton
t-7. West Virginia
9. North Carolina
10. Florida State
11. Oregon
12. Louisville
13. Butler
14. Arizona
15. Notre Dame
16. Virginia
17. Wisconsin
18. Duke
19. Florida
20. Cincinnati
21. Purdue
22. Xavier
23. Saint Mary’s
24. South Carolina
25. Maryland

Texas gets important commitment from 2017 point guard Matt Coleman

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Texas landed an important piece for its future on Monday as four-star Class of 2017 point guard Matt Coleman committed to the Longhorns during a televised announcement.

A priority recruit for head coach Shaka Smart, the 6-foot-2 Coleman is regarded as the No. 35 overall prospect in the country, according to Rivals. A lefty floor general who can attack the basket and set up others, Coleman played for Smart this summer as the two won a gold medal together with the USA Basketball U18 team during the 2016 FIBA Americas.

Coleman is going to have to improve his perimeter shooting for the next level — he only shot 18 percent from three-point range in Nike EYBL play — but he’s the type of setup guard who should help the talented Texas perimeter get ideal shots. It’ll be intriguing to see how Smart plans to play Coleman in what could be a crowded backcourt next season but Coleman should help bring stability to the team.

With Coleman in the mix, we’ll likely see Smart use a lot of lineups with two ball handlers as we saw with Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix last season. That type of backcourt might suit Smart’s style of play a bit better than the current Texas roster this season.

Coleman is the fourth commitment for Texas in the Class of 2017. He joins three other four-star prospects in big man Jericho Sims, guard Jase Febres and forward Royce Hamm.

Five things we learned: Duke’s a mess, Gonzaga’s a controversy, Baylor’s back

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 27:  Nigel Williams-Goss #5 and Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs celebrate a victory over the Iowa State Cyclones at HP Field House on November 27, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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1. The ‘Is Gonzaga a No. 1 seed?’ controversy is coming whether you like it or not: Gonzaga improved to 17-0 this week, meaning that the Zags are now exactly halfway to entering the NCAA tournament undefeated on the season. The statement was made on Saturday night, when No. 5 Gonzaga hosted No. 21 Saint Mary’s and won by 23 points.

The game was much closer than the final score – a late-run from the Zags and foul trouble for Jock Landale were the culprits in the end – but it was a statement nonetheless. Saint Mary’s is really good, and Gonzaga dispatched them with little trouble. It more or less confirms what we already knew: there is a very real chance that the Zags can go undefeated during the regular season, and it is a virtual certainty that ‘Is Gonzaga really a No. 1 seed?’ will be one of the biggest talking points on Selection Sunday.

Think about it: How many more games will the Zags actually lose? Their trip to Saint Mary’s is going to be tricky, BYU is certainly dangerous and they’ll likely face one of those two teams in the WCC title game. Throw in the fact that every road game they play is the biggest game of the year for their opponent, and I’ll set the over/under for Zag losses at 2.5; worth noting: KenPom projects Gonzaga to be favored in every game they play.

Let’s think about this in a best-case scenario: The Zags will enter Selection Sunday with neutral site wins over Iowa State, Arizona and Florida, but a clean sweep of Saint Mary’s. That will, in all likelihood, be the totality of their top 50 wins. The Selection Committee is going to have to compare that profile to the profiles of Villanova, Kansas, Kentucky and the eventual ACC champion, not to mention fellow west coast powerhouse UCLA.

If Gonzaga ends up going 34-0, they’ll be an automatic No. 1 seed, or at least they should be. But if they lose a game or two?

That’s when this will become interesting.

And even if the Zags don’t lose a game, there will still be people saying they don’t deserve to get a top seed.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Takeaways | Top 25

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2. Duke is a total mess right now: Twice in the last week and for the third time this season, Duke went on the road in ACC play and took a loss in a game that never felt like it was all that much in doubt. On Tuesday, the Blue Devils lost by 16 at Florida State in a game where they gave up 88 points. On Saturday, they lost by nine at Louisville, giving up 78 points to the offensively-challenged Cardinals.

And that’s where their issues begin. On defense, particularly in ball-screen defense. Harry Giles III just doesn’t look like he quite understands where he has to be and when he has to be there yet, while Marques Bolden, in Amile Jefferson’s absence, is playing behind both Chase Jeter and Javin DeLaurier. Offensively, the issues they’ve had with point guard play are really coming to the forefront, as Grayson Allen, for all his ability, is an attacker, not a facilitator, at heart. Jayson Tatum is a super-skilled scorer, but he lacks a feel for the game to the point where Duke has actually looked like a better team with him on the bench.

The Blue Devils lack toughness. They lack a killer. They get pushed around. And their leaders – Coach K on the bench and Jefferson on the floor – are both currently on the mend.

At what point do we start questioning if, not when, Duke can turn this thing around?

3. Xavier has their own problems: The Musketeer’s issues have less to do with ability than they do with the fact that this team lacks résumé wins. As of this moment in time, Chris Mack’s club may not have a win over an NCAA tournament team. They beat Clemson who can’t beat anyone in the ACC. They beat Utah before Utah had David Collette and Sedrick Barefield eligible. They beat Wake Forest (whatever) and Northern Iowa twice (they stick this year).

There are still plenty of good wins left for them to get – Creighton twice, at Cincinnati, Xavier at home, Butler at home, the Big East tournament – and this team is good enough to get some of them, but it’s worth noting that, as of today, Xavier’s tournament profile is not good.

4. Maybe Baylor wasn’t the best team in the country after all: It was fun while it lasted for the Bears, as No. 1 Baylor went into Morgantown and learned what Press Virginia is all about. They committed 29 turnovers in a 21-point loss. And frankly, if you were paying attention, the result shouldn’t have been all that surprising. Yes, Scott Drew’s club got beaten worse than we thought, but they were also a team that earned that No. 1 ranking because of the way that the voting is done, not necessarily because they were the best team in the country.

WACO, TX - JANUARY 7: Johnathan Motley #5 and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. #0 of the Baylor Bears celebrate after defeating the Oklahoma State Cowboys 61-57 on January 7, 2017 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

5. New Mexico and Colorado State do not like each other: New Mexico and Colorado State got into a couple of different altercations on Saturday in UNM’s win at Colorado State. It started in the pregame, where a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal reported that CSU players were talking trash to UNM players about the job status of the Lobo coaches. During the game, a hard-screen set by a UNM player resulted in a near-brawl, one where UNM assistants Chris Harriman and Terrence Rencher were ejected for leaving their bench.

After the game is when things really got interesting. The Journal reporter published video of a verbal altercation outside the arena between Rencher and CSU player Emmanuel Omogbo. Omogbo, who was held back by CSU head coach Larry Eustachy, claimed that Rencher started the altercation, and Eustachy’s wife, Lana, accused him of laughing when he was told of the tragedy Omogbo has lived through; his parents and two two-year old sisters died in a house fire last year.

UNM strongly denied that those allegations were true, and their account was supported by the Journal reporter. It turned into a big deal this weekend, largely due to the fact that it was a coach and a player that got into it …

… and because it was on video.

And that was where the real damage was done.

Dust-ups like what happened in and around that building on Saturday happen more than you think, particularly in the gyms where both teams have to leave the floor through the same tunnel. In this incident, a 22-year old coming off of a chippy home loss lost his temper. It happens. Rencher didn’t raise his fists or raise his voice, essentially responding to the player by saying, “Keep it moving, you don’t want these problems.”

Neither man covered himself in glory, and neither of them did anything that was all that bad.

It was a situation that was diffused pretty quickly, never escalated into any type of violence and only became ‘a thing’ because it was captured on video.

These two teams play again in mid-February. Hopefully this will be the last time we have to talk about it until then.