Finding Fulkerson

Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena, once again, showed the two faces of Tennessee. Most of the first half, every shot Tennessee took looked hard. Not a lot of rhythm offensively, and just subpar defense. But who was the one that kept the Vols alive and was then the catalyst of the comeback? You guessed it, Fulky. 

John Fulkerson in the 12 games since January 23rd: 

  • Has only had 3 double digit scoring games. 
  • He put up a goose egg against Kentucky, mostly due to foul trouble. 
  • Six of the games he only scored 4 points
  • Shot 45% during that stretch and that included a 100% game on 2 for 2 shooting.
  • Six games with 1 or 0 assists.

John has struggled mightily this season. The strange thing about it is, it’s hard to figure out why. He’s gone from Pre-Season SEC 1st team, to being the biggest missing key for this Tennessee team. Is it not being able to fit in with all the young talent around him? Is he just being too passive? Was last year just an anomaly? Is there something we don’t know about? Did he eat too many double Pal’s over the summer?? 

So many questions have surrounded John this year. Now, he has handled it like a true champ. He’s still been fun Fulky at presses conferences, and has also owned up to every bad performance. Tip of the cap for having that kind of the head on your shoulders at 21.

Honestly being able to throw it into John on the block or the midpost adds a much needed dimension to Tennessee’s offense. Not having an “Alpha” that can go get a bucket when needed, is the biggest weakness in this Vols offense so far. 

Sure. Springer, Keon, and Bailey have had moments of being those types of players, but week in and week out that aspect has been absent for Tennessee’s offense. Fulkerson was supposed to be “The Guy” this year. You can tell Barnes believed the offense this year would run through Fulkerson and everyone would play off a lot of his actions. That plan had fallen flat, until Saturday. 

The most productive offense Tennessee had on Saturday against Florida, was the high Fulkerson ball screen and slip action. They were able to hit Fulky in the middle of paint and he seemed to be reacting well by either scoring or making the right pass. The fluidity and quick decision making came back for Fulky Saturday. He was just playing ball. I know, “Just Playing and not thinking” sounds so simple, and it is something we have all rolled our eyes at when either a coach or parent has told us this BUT, it’s what made John look like his old self on Saturday.

A lot of things need to come together for Tennessee to win the whole SEC tourney, and most importantly do well in the NCAA tournament. The stifling defense that was so applauded at the beginning of the season, was again shown in the 2nd half against Florida. That attacking defense has to be consistent every game. Even if the offense isn’t clicking, this team should stay in every game with that defense. Offensively, this team attacked the paint at a high clip in the second half. This Tennessee team is too athletic to continue to settle for bad jumpers and not get to the paint more often. 

According to Will Warren and www.hoop-math.com

“Tennessee took 14 non-rim two-pointers out of 62 field goal attempts. That’s 22.6% of all shots. That’s the lowest since the Texas A&M game on January 9th & third-lowest of the season. 26 of Tennessee’s final 32 shots were layups, dunks, tips, or threes.”

If you somewhat follow basketball, then you know efficient offenses score around the rim, or open 3s. Will Warren wrote an article asking if Tennessee is Obsessed with the Mid Range Jumper”. So, to revert back to the statement earlier about every Tennessee basket seems tough to get, this article does a great job of showing you why. Getting easier more efficient shots has to be the main point Rick Barnes hammers home this week for the Tennessee offense. Get to the paint and take open 3s. Saturday’s 2nd half showed when in attack mode, that kind of Tennessee offense will be very tough to stop.

Saturday also showed how much Fulky means to this program. He has been the epitome of a VFL. That guy has worked so hard throughout his career to become the caliber of player he is. Yes, it has been a down year, but man what Fulkerson did the years prior and quite a few times this season, is a testament to him and the coaches investment into development. You have to love the kid for his passion and just the class he carries himself with. Just a good ole boy from Kingsport, who loves to ball.

Personally, I think it’s in his best basketball interest to come back. But, most of us don’t know his mindset. Maybe he has made real life plans for after his time at Tennessee. If he does decide he wants to continue his basketball career, Vol Nation will love every second he will be back on the floor. If not, thanks for all the memories, John. 

The Vols getting the double bye means they will play at 2:00 pm on Friday. In what possibly could be a rematch with Florida. Time to see if there is a carryover.

So, was Fulky’s Saturday performance another Tennessee tease or is it going to be the perfect timing performance that this team needs heading into Nashville? 

Stay classy all you wonderful VFLs, 

Chase

You can follow me at Mcgreen423

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