Last Season: 16 - 16 (8 - 10 in conference) #57 kenpom
My Prediction: 13 - 16 (7 - 11, 11th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 5.8 - 12.2 (12th in conference)
HEAD COACH: Rick Barnes | third season 31-35
As it turns out, cleaning up the mess left by Donnie Tyndall isn’t something you can do in a month or two. Barnes has faced a tough road back and for all his success at Clemson and Texas, he’s having to take a slower more gradual road. After making 16 tournaments in 17 seasons, his two seasons in Knoxville have yet to yield a trip. I wouldn’t say it’s been without honor as Barnes has taken two rag-tagish teams of Cuonzo Martin holdovers combined with Donnie Tyndall guys and merged with his own players to be competitive a tough out. You could even give credit to Barnes for being a better coach the last two seasons as they’ve somehow managed to hold things together. He’s still waiting to break through and as the SEC gets more difficult to win in it will be interesting to see where Rick Barnes can place Tennessee.
Seat Temp: COOL
Bruce Pearl had a run, and in some ways Tennessee is still paying the piper. Cuonzo Martin began the rebuild but it was stunted by impatience from the fan base which led them to Tyndall and then to Barnes. They may not make it back this year but it shouldn’t take long before there are happy times in Knoxville again.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
|James Daniel III||graduation||35||48.99%||7.55%||13.35%||9.08%|
Robert Hubbs III did everything for the Vols last year. When you consider the Vols last year were a top 60 kenpom team despite nearly all of their minutes going to freshmen and sophomores, it shows the leadership Hubbs displayed and it also goes to speak for his reliability late in the shot clock. Replacing Hubbs is going to be a very tall task. Detrick Mostella was an important player before being removed from the team and transferring. Shembari Phillips left for more opportunity as he looked to be recruited over. Lew Evans was the quintessential role guy, he provided solid if unspectacular minutes. And Kwe Parker leaving shouldn’t surprise anyone, he’s an electric athlete who still needs to put it all together on the court.
AND, WHO’S BACK?
Grant Williams | SOPHOMORE | COMBO FORWARD
The biggest surprise for the Vols season was probably Grant Williams. Williams earned a whopping one line in last years preview so clearly the expectations weren’t high. He was barely inside the top 200 and somehow was the Vols best player for parts of the season. Williams possesses much better than advertised athleticism, and when that was coupled with a college ready body and an incredibly high basketball IQ and you have the potential for a breakout player. Williams is still evolving as a player in some ways. His most natural position is likely as a post, but his size and athleticism could project him to eventually land on the wing. In the modern game a role as a Stretch-4 type player may be ideal as Williams improves on his ball skills. But everything else is already in place as he knocked down nearly 39% of this three’s from last year.
At Rick Barnes disposal are two equally qualified point guards in Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bone. Bone has a slightly higher upside at the moment, he slithers into the lane with ease but he’s also prone to playing out of control. The more he learns to play under control the more he’ll steal minutes, but Turner is already more polished and under control. I love the versatility of Admiral Schofield, he’s so big and strong he can defend down low and he’s a bull hurling towards the basket. And the more he improves his ball skills the more versatile he becomes and the more of an ultimate weapon off the bench he ends up. Kyle Alexander has progressed a bit, he’s long and athletic and hasn’t been relied upon a ton but if he keeps improving he could be an important guy down low. Another important role guy for the Vols is John Fulkerson. Fulkerson played in 10 games before missing the rest of the year but during his time he was a little things guy who gave the team a jolt when he was on the floor. Healthy he could play a big role this year. Jalen Johnson sat out the year to put on weight as he arrived in Knoxville a paltry 170 lbs, but if he’s able to compete physically, his athleticism could see him steal a starting role.
Jordan Bowden | SOPHOMORE | WING
Some or most of the ceiling for the Vols may rest in the hands of Jordan Bowen, the most likely replacement on the wing for Robert Hubbs III. Bowden is an explosive athlete who is more than capabel but a 32% mark from outside won’t cut it if he is hoping to take over some of the scoring load. In games where Bowden shot well and scored the ball, Tennessee was a much tougher out and they even went 5-1 in a stretch where Bowden averaged more than 14ppg in four of the five wins. If Bowden is capable of replicating those kinds of performances on more nights than not Tennessee has a shot to exceed most of the expectations set for them.
THEN, WHO’S KNEW?
Barnes hasn’t exactly set the recruiting world on fire, but he’s consistently brought in guys who can help and who project to be four year players. If you can’t beat the teams who land high level recruits by out recruiting them, you have to out experience them. Yves Pons is a terrific prospect with good size and and athleticism for a wing. James Daniel III was an enormous scorer at Howard and he’s about to test if those skills can translate to the SEC. Chris Darrington is a solid combo guard who should push for a starting spot. Both Zach Kent and Derrick Walker will have a hard time cracking the rotation but with Walker’s size he has a chance to push for minutes.
|(1) Point Guard||Jordan Bone||Lamonte Turner|
|(2) Combo Guard||Jordan Bowden||Yves Pons|
|(3) Wing||Admiral Schofield||Jalen Johnson|
|(4) Combo Forward||Grant Williams||John Fulkerson||D.J. Burns|
|(5) Post||Kyle Alexander||Derrick Walker||Zach Kent|
Depth is not an issue for the Volunteers this season. Ceiling might be, but there are legitimately 13 guys on scholarship who could contribute this year. I think you start Grant Williams and probably Lamonte Turner and let the rest figure it out. Bone and Turner could play together or you can set them in tandem. You need scoring so Daniel will play a lot as should Bowden. And what about in the post? Go small with Schofield and Williams or ride Fulkerson and Alexander? We’ll see what lineup makes Tennessee the most competitive.
My Projected Record: 13 - 16 | KenPom Projected Record: 15 - 13
|Nov 13||Home||Georgia Tech||92||W|
|Nov 23||Neutral||Kansas / Marquette||1 / 29||L|
|Nov 28||Home||Eastern Kentucky||267||W|
|Dec 2||Home||Texas A&M-Corpus Christi||311||W|
|Dec 22||Home||Wake Forest||91||W|
|Dec 29||Home||Tennessee Tech||289||W|
|Jan 26||Home||West Virginia||10||W|
Tennessee went and made things pretty difficult to get a clean run through non-conference play. Five games against power conference foes and only the defending champion North Carolina comes to Knoxville. There are key contests that are not unwinnable for the Vols, namely against Georgia Tech (a team UT beat by 20+ points last year), Wake Forest (a solid improving program but still a lot of young players), and Iowa State (massive turnover in Ames this offseason). I think it’s possible for UT to win two or even all three of those games, but go winless and the season is going to get a lot longer.
|Jan 13||Away||Texas A&M||15||L|
|Jan 20||Away||South Carolina||48||W|
|Feb 03||Home||Ole Miss||52||W|
|Feb 13||Home||South Carolina||48||W|
|Feb 24||Away||Ole Miss||52||L|
|Feb 27||Away||Mississippi St||59||W|
The last two years Tennessee has beaten Kentucky at home, and I wouldn’t put it past Rick Barnes and company to do it again. Which would cap an early season home stretch against Auburn and Vanderbilt as well. That three game stretch is important because getting off to a strong start early is important. There’s a softish middle of the schedule so with a few early wins you can see that spiral into a solid showing in conference play. With Home-and-Home’s against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, UT has good history against their tougher opponents, so stay afloat there and try to get a sweep or two against Ole Miss, Georgia and South Carolina and you can see how the Vols can exceed my record projection.
It feels a little weird looking at the projected wins and feeling optimistic about Tennessee. Basically I think the odds are going to favor them more than the straight up wins and losses will. For some reason this Vol team feels a little underwhelming in some ways but the job Rick Barnes has done in season the last few years makes me want to give them the benefit of the doubt enough to think they’re going to exceed my expectations.
The question is who replaces the production and leadership of Robert Hubbs? Hubbs did a lot for Tennessee last year and there were times he didn’t have enough support, which lead to a bit of a fall and losses in seven of their last 10 games. The experience gained by players like Bowden and Williams might be the place to look for the leadership vacuum. Maybe Lamonte Turner or Jordan Bone can lead from the point guard position.
Perhaps it depends on what Tennessee gets from JUCO transfer Chris Darrington or graduate transfer James Daniel. Daniel was the leading scoring in the nation two years ago and it remains to be seen if that translates to the SEC after blitzing the MEAC. If the Vols can get consistent outside shooting from Daniel and Darrington it will be hard to keep them off the floor. Yet Daniel isn’t a guy known for his outside shooting, he was a volume scorer at Howard so it remains to be seen how he’ll fit into the lineup. And if both fail to solidify the questionable outside shooting what next?
Only Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield hit above 36% from 3 a year ago, and they were in the 38% range. You want your bigs to be able to step out and make some outside shots to keep the defense honest but they shouldn’t be your percentage leaders. The Vols need to find someone who can shoot more consistently.
It comes down to who Rick Barnes wants his team to be. There are some intriguing options and some really nice players up and down the roster. However even with a lot of nice options I still think this team is a year away from a break through. It’s hard to win with a lot of young guys and Tennessee has a lot of young guys they’ll be counting on. This sophomore class has a chance to be the one that turns it around in Knoxville, the question is whether or not they can get it done this year, or if Vols fans have to wait until 2019 for a return to the NCAA tournament. Of all the scenarios, I think this last one is the most likely.
About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.
If you’d like to submit your picks, click here for the Google Form we used.
* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player
GP - Games Played
%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury
%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team
%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.
%pts - percentage of teams points scored
ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.