"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Tennessee Preview

Tennessee Volunteers
November 23, Barclay's Center (Brooklyn, NY)

Coach: Rick Barnes (57-44 at Tennessee, 661-358 overall)
3-Year RPI Average: 77.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 57.7
2018-19 T-Rank Projection: 11
Projected Starters: PG Jordan Bone (6'3" Jr), SG Lamonte Turner (6'1" Jr), SF Admiral Schofield (6'5" Sr), PF Grant Williams (6'7" Jr), C Kyle Alexander (6'11" Sr)

The 2017-18 Volunteers were a squad that no one saw coming. SEC coaches picked them 13th in the 14 team league. This isn't a roster of lottery picks like Kentucky; they didn't even have one consensus top-100 recruit. But the entire team bought in. They played tenacious defense & outperformed offensive expectations. Not only that, they return virtually their entire roster. Most rankings have them as a preseason top-5 team in the country & legitimate Final Four contender.

The Volunteers' top-5 scorers all return. Williams & Schofield are the stars. Williams in particular will be the defensive focus. He won SEC Player of the Year in 2018 & is a likely preseason All-American. Turner, Bone, Alexander, & Jordan Bowden have all shown the ability to take control of a game. The Volunteers have diverse offensive abilities. Most of their players are focused on getting inside & scoring downhill, but when that isn't there, they have 4 returning players that averaged 38% or better from three.

While Barnes' teams historically play faster, that changed over the course of last season. In their first 13 games, the Vols were 9-4. In games of 71 or fewer possessions, they were 6-0 & in games of 72 or more possessions they were 3-4. After back-to-back losses to open SEC play (both in 72+ possession games) the Vols slowed it down. They finished the season 17-5 & only played one game of 72+ possessions.

Defensively, this team bought in completely. They run a suffocating man defense that challenges every shot. There are a few ways to exploit them. First, they are a poor defensive rebounding team, especially if they go small or Bowden is in for Schofield. Second, Williams & Schofield can be foul-prone. In 4 of their 9 losses last season, both players had 4+ fouls, & at least one of them had 4+ fouls in 8 of their 9 losses. Going after those two definitely makes beating Tennessee easier.

The biggest question for this year is how this team will handle expectations. While there were none last year, this team will be one of the SEC favorites and expected to be a factor nationally. Their schedule is designed accordingly, with games against Gonzaga, West Virginia, & Memphis highlighting the schedule. If this team is healthy,another SEC title challenge & high NCAA seed should both be realistic goals.

Marquette Connection: One thing Buzz Williams' teams in 2011, 2012, and 2013 were lacking was an inside enforcer. Someone who could defend physically & clean up the boards. Someone like Jeronne Maymon. Before transferring to Tennessee in the middle of his freshman year, Maymon began his college career at Marquette. His father was known as a helicopter parent & was insistent than his 6'7", 250-lb son play point guard. When Buzz wouldn't relent, Maymon left for the Volunteers...to play power forward. Who knows how it would've worked out had he stayed, but Maymon was a beast inside, averaging over 8 rpg twice as a Volunteer. He never played the point but was the exact type of player that could've helped lift one of Buzz's second weekend teams a little bit further.

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