No offense but ...

No offense but ...

Watching Tennessee trying to play halfcourt offense is kind of like watching a one-armed guy trying to put together a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle ... wearing a boxing glove ... in the dark.

You just know it's not going to end well.

After seeing his team shoot a putrid 36.4 percent from the floor and 23.8 percent from 3 in Saturday's home loss to Mississippi State, Vol coach Bruce Pearl noted that "This is probably the worst-shooting team I've had."

There's no "probably" about it, Coach. This is it.

The head man's 2005-06 team shot 46.4 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from 3. His '06-07 team shot 44.8 and 36.5. His '07-08 team shot 45.8 and 35.7. His '08-09 team shot 45.5 and 31.5. His '09-10 team shot 45.6 and 32.0. At just 43.1 percent, this year's team is nearly two percentage points worse than Pearl's previous low-water mark from the field. And, at 31.3 percent, it also ranks dead last from beyond the 3-point arc.

One reason this team shoots so poorly is that it takes a lot of ill-advised shots. That was very much the case in Saturday's loss to the Bulldogs.

"We had a lot of possessions where we just gave 'em up," junior guard Scotty Hopson said. "We didn't make them cover, make them guard."

Senior point guard Melvin Goins agreed, noting: "There was a sequence of plays where we just shot 3-ball after 3-ball after 3-ball and we didn't run any offense. I think everybody has to get on the same page and try to execute."

When asked why he didn't call out his teammates for taking so many long-range shots, Goins replied, "I wasn't in the game for most of that time."

There's more to Tennessee's offensive futility than an inability to shoot the ball, however. The Vols can't handle the ball, either. Check out the assist-to-turnover numbers under Pearl:

2005-06: Plus-123 with 509 assists and 386 turnovers.

2006-07: Plus-50 with 546 assists and 496 turnovers.

2007-08: Plus-163 with 637 assists and 474 turnovers.

2008-09: Plus-102 with 554 assists and 452 turnovers.

2009-10: Plus-40 with 530 assists and 490 turnovers.

2010-11: Minus-2 with 388 assists and 390 turnovers.

That's right. Despite a deliberate tempo, this year's team is on track to become the first in Pearl's tenure to finish with more turnovers than assists.

"This team does not play well together offensively," the coach conceded. "If I don't call a play and put them in the spots they're supposed to be in, they have a hard time making decisions on their own. We're not playing well offensively together. We haven't all year. It's been a struggle."

Tennessee fans will forgive a lack of efficiency. They won't forgive a lack of energy, and the 2010-11 Vols have been guilty of that at times. Pearl admits as much.

"The ball doesn't move quickly enough," he said. "When you work pretty hard defensively you expend some energy, then I don't see that effort and sharpness on the offensive end. We slop through things."

Goins said he can sense when Tennessee's enthusiasm is waning but that he has a limited ability to revive it.

"I only can do so much," he said. "I can't make guys cut. I can't give us an energy shot. I can only talk and try to bring my energy and hope it rubs off on our team."

Pearl has used numerous personnel groupings to try and cure Tennessee's offensive ills but none seem to provide a long-term fix. The last three games have seen the Vols shoot 41.7 percent and muster 63 points in a home loss to Georgia, shoot 38.6 percent and score 60 points in a road win at Vanderbilt, then shoot 36.4 percent and produce 69 points in the home loss to Mississippi State.

"We talked about some stepped-up performance," the coach said, "but we're just not getting it."

When asked what he can do to try and fix the team's offensive doldrums, Pearl replied: "If I knew what to do I would've been doing it."

In addition to being the worst-shooting team and the worst assist/turnover team of the Pearl era, the 2010-11 Vols are the lowest-scoring team. After averaging 80.4 points in 2005-06, 80.9 in 2006-07, 81.8 in 2007-08, 78.4 in 2008-09 and 73.5 in 2009-10, the Vols are averaging just 70.8 points in 2010-11. That's 11 points behind Pearl's highest-scoring team and nearly three points worse than the previous low-scoring outfit.

"I've been a head coach 19 years, and my teams have led their leagues in scoring 17 of them," the coach said. "This is obviously a team where that's not what our identity is, and it continues to prove itself. We need some guys to step up offensively."

Two guys essentially have been stepping up all year. Hopson averages 17.4 points per game and freshman forward Tobias Harris 14.3. Unfortunately for the Vols, there is no reliable scoring option behind The Big Two.

As Pearl put it: "We need a third or a fourth guy - no question about it - and have not had it."

When asked about the pressure he and Harris face in having to carry the offense every night, however, Hopson shrugged.

"That's our role," he said, "so it's not so much pressure as much as fulfilling our role and doing what we've got to do to help us win."

Even with Hopson and Harris combining for 50 points, Tennessee lost a home game to Georgia nine days ago. And, even with them combining for 38 on Saturday, the Vols lost another home game to Mississippi State.

So what's the answer to this riddle?

"I really don't know," Harris said. "We just haven't been doing a good job in our halfcourt offense. We're not playing together, we're not making the open passes, we're not looking for each other.

"That sums it up right there."

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