Jahmai Mashack may be the best defender Tennessee Basketball has and is certainly their best defender off the bench. He played one minute in the first half of the Vols’ 85-69 loss to the Texas A&M Aggies on the road Saturday night, and UT suffered a series of defensive breakdowns to spot them a 42-28 lead in that period.
Mashack came in and played well after Dalton Knecht was in foul trouble in the second half. Somehow, though, Zakai Zeigler played all 40 minutes. Rick Barnes’ complete mismanagement of substitutions already has this team tired in early February, and honestly, it’s going to cost them in March.
You could point out Texas A&M having a red-hot shooting night from three, going 11-of-28. This is the type of game UT could have lost no matter what. However, what made it more convincing was the fact that A&M was just much fresher, and it showed on numerous 50-50 balls.
For 34 of the game’s 40 minutes, A&M didn’t have one player over 6’8″ on the court. However, they still managed to have two more offensive rebounds than Tennessee basketball, which should never have been the case given the fact that Jonas Aidoo was out there.
Speaking of Aidoo, he only played 20 minutes and had just six points. However, Barnes still only played Tobe Awaka for 12 minutes, mostly deciding to go small despite his players not being well-rested enough. This problem has plagued the Vols for a while now, and it’s getting worse.
Flaming out due to lack of depth is nothing new for Barnes. The 2018-19 Vols were No. 1 for three weeks but then lost a game each of the final three Saturdays of the regular season, the SEC Tournament Championship and in the Sweet 16, all to lower-seeded teams.
In previous years with the Texas Longhorns, Barnes was notorious for red-hot starts with really good teams that fell apart later. The 2009-10 team started the year ranked No. 3 and made it to No. 1 after reaching 17-0. However, they finished 7-10 that year and were bounced out in the first round of March.
Could that happen to Tennessee Basketball again? Barnes lives by the philosophy that players earn playing time, but players earn rest as well, and lack of rest is killing this team. If he doesn’t agree to go deeper soon, the Vols will once again suffer an early exit.