Tennessee is heading into this year with a lot of unknowns as they look to replace a few key parts from last season’s squad. Nevertheless, the team has high hopes for themselves heading into the year after they reached the Elite Eight for the first time in school history last season.
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Bruce Pearl has taken Tennessee to the Big Dance each of the last five seasons, including three appearances in the Sweet 16, and will look to take his team past the opening weekend again this year. It won’t be an easy task getting to that point this year, however, as the Vols will have to replace three of their most valuable players from last season’s squad that were seniors. If the young guys can step in and match the lost production, then Tennessee will be one of the best teams in the conference this year.
Frontcourt: Tennessee’s biggest adjustment this season will be trying to fill the void left by Wayne Chism, who put up a team best 12.6 points per night last season and was one of their best defensive stoppers. Tobias Harris, a 6’8? freshman who plays the four, will likely be called upon to play a lot of minutes, and will be expected to now and again step out and spread the floor with his jumper. Kenny Hall should contend for a decent amount minutes at the four this year, and could also see some time at center considering he is one of just three players on the Vols roster that is 6’9? or taller.
Brain Williams played better in the NCAA Tournament last year, where he contributed 7.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Viewing he is the only true center Tennessee has on their squad, Williams will need to have a good year if the Vols want to try to make it back to the Elite Eight or further this season.
Steven Pearl, Renaldo Woolridge, John Fields, and Jeronne Maymon will come off the bench this year, giving the Vols plenty of depth in their front court.
Backcourt: Melvin Goins will be tasked with running the team at the one this season. He will need to get better if wants to replace the production of Bobby Maze from last season, who averaged 9.4 points per night and had one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the conference last season. Goins averaged 5.3 points and 1.8 assists per night last year, and I would expect both of those numbers to rise this year.
Cameron Tatum and Scotty Hopson will be two of the most trusted upon players on the Vols squad this season. Tatum averaged only 7.4 points and 1.1 assists per contest last season, but he is a fairly efficient shooter and doesn’t waste a lot of opportunities trying to force attempts. He made nearly 39% from 3-point range and 48% overall from the field.
Hopson was the second leading scorer from the Tennessee team last year, when he contributed 12.2 points per night. He is very explosive on the wing and has the ability to take over the game on the offensive side of the ball. He will need to stop turning the ball over so much, however, as he gave it away 78 times last year.
Stephen’s Pick – 2nd place in the SEC: The Vols lost more players from last season than any other conference team outside of Kentucky. Unluckily for Tennessee, their incoming freshmen aren’t quite as good as the ones heading up north to play for John Calipari and the Wildcats.
However, if Tennessee’s young players can come forward into bigger roles this season and play solid defense, there aren’t many other school in the SEC that are as talented as the Vols. I would expect Bruce Pearl to get enough out of this team to push them to a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament, but I’m not positive they have enough skill to rmake it back to the Elite Eight.
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