Season Preview: Tennessee Volunteers
Last Season: 16-16 (No Postseason Appearance)
Key Losses: Shembari Phillips, Robert Hubbs III, Detrick Mostella
Key Additions: James Daniel, Chris Darrington, Zach Kent, Derrick Walker
After failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year last season, third-year head coach Rick Barnes looks to continue the rebuilding process he envisioned when he took over the Tennessee program in 2015.
The Volunteers boast one of the youngest rosters in the nation with only one player currently over the age of 20. That said, Tennessee will need to rely heavily on Howard transfer James Daniel. A 6-foot graduate transfer, Daniel was the NCAA’s leading scorer in the 2015-16 season averaging 27.1 points per game.
Joining Daniel in the backcourt is Vincennes transfer, Chris Darrington who with the veteran Daniel has the potential to be one of the most explosive scoring guard duos in the SEC.
“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said in an interview with NBC’s College Basketball Talk. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”
Joining these two in the backcourt will be sophomore guard Lamonte Turner. In his freshman year, Turner averaged 8.2 points, 2.7 assists in 20 minutes of action. With Darrington and Daniel as expected starters, Turner will put together solid minutes on the floor coming off the bench and continue to earn a larger role as the season progresses.
Other guards who could see valuable ticks off the bench are Jordan Bowden and Jordan Bone, both sophomores who saw their fair share of minutes at the guard position during their first year in Knoxville.
While the Vols have many options at guard, the Achilles’ Heel will be their minimal depth in the frontcourt.
At the small forward spot, Tennessee returns sophomore Grant Williams who averaged 12.1 points per game last year while playing approximately 25 minutes a game his freshman year. With the graduation of Robert Hubbs III, Williams role at the small forward position will increase, and it’ll be interesting if he can improve his already impressive efficiency from last year as he shot 50% overall from the field. Another area where Williams excels is his shot blocking ability. Last year, Williams led the Volunteers with 1.9 blocks per game. Standing at 6-foot-5, that is another facet of Williams game where he’ll need to dominate again this year.
Another area where Williams excels is his shot blocking ability. Last year, Williams led the Volunteers with 1.9 blocks per game. Standing at 6-foot-5, that is another facet of Williams game where he’ll need to dominate again this year.
Downlow, the Vols will be led by 6-foot-10 junior forward Kyle Alexander who averaged 3.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in his sophomore season while playing roughly 14 minutes per game. Along with Alexander, sophomore 6-foot-7 John Fulkerson (4.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG) will see a larger role from last season.
These two, for the most part, will get a shot at the start to lead the Tennessee frontcourt but there are two newcomers who are ready to steal some minutes from these veterans.
6-foot-10 Zach Kent and 6-foot-8 Derrick Walker, both top 300 recruits in the 2017 class according to 247, have the potential to be the big men of the future for Rick Barnes and the rebuilding process. Don’t be surprised to see these two not only see more minutes as the season goes on but also flirt around in the starting rotation come February or March.
Season Prediction: As of now, many experts expect Tennessee to fall near the bottom half of the SEC mainly due to their lack of experience and question marks at the center and power forward positions. With the additions of Daniel and Darrington at guard and the return of Williams, I think the Volunteers have a chance to surprise people and make some noise in the SEC this year. Rick Barnes has solid young pieces returning to head the rebuild and also has been making his presence felt on the recruiting trail to get Tennessee basketball back on the map.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: James Daniel
SG: Chris Darrington
SF: Grant Williams
PF: John Fulkerson
C: Kyle Alexander
Featured Image via Sports Illustrated