On the surface, Tennessee Basketball should have answered the biggest question surrounding them. Do the Vols have an interior presence offensively to take pressure off their arsenal of three-point shooters? They need the three-point shooting in March, and they need the inside scoring for their three-point shooting to thrive.
Jonas Aidoo, the one big in the starting lineup, answered that question on paper as the Vols beat the George Mason Patriots 87-66 Tuesday night. He finished with a career night, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds. However, the way he scored 17 points is another concern.
Only one bucket by Aidoo came from inside the circle underneath the basket. He dominated because he just happened to have a great night shooting the ball, hitting both of his three-point attempts and two fadeaways. Then he hit a free throw. Simply put, he got 11 points from his finesse play.
Now, Tennessee Basketball would welcome that finesse play from anybody, but let’s be honest. Aidoo is not going to keep that up. It’s incumbent on the perimeter shooters to keep that up. For Aidoo, the key is outworking players under the basket, and he still seemed unwilling to do that in this game.
To be fair, Aidoo’s finesse did extend to a crucial part of the game down low. He consistently made the right pass, which is why he finished the game with four assists. Shooting from outside at least also showed he’s got another element to his game that teams have to respect.
However, there’s still no proof that he isn’t too soft to dominate down low in order to take pressure off UT’s three-point shooters. This is where Uros Plavsic, despite all his talk, suffered. He just couldn’t be the force under the basket Rick Barnes needed to spread out the defense.
There’s still good news for Tennessee Basketball, though. Tobe Awaka, who is now healthy, came off the bench and added 11 points, and he made four field goals underneath the circle. While he doesn’t have Aidoo’s size or athleticism, he has the toughness and the girth to command attention down low.
Josiah-Jordan James was the other star with 15 points, three steals, six rebounds and six assists, but he’s one of those guys that can always deliver, even if he isn’t on. There’s not doubt this team is capable of beating anybody, and in a seven-game series, they just might beat anybody fully healthy.
In March, though it’s win or go home. That’s when they need the offense to hang with a red-hot shooting team if they aren’t red-hot that day, and the offense can’t do that without a threat inside. Aidoo didn’t prove to be that threat in this one despite a career night. Tennessee Basketball may have that threat in Awaka, though.