Number 6, that was the preseason ranking of the 2016-2017 North Carolina Tar Heels.
Number 6, that was the preseason ranking of the 2017-2018 Villanova Wildcats.
Both season outcomes, national champions.
Number 6, that’s the preseason ranking of the 2018-2019 Tennessee Volunteers.
Welcome to true preseason hype, Vol fans.
Last season the Vols were projected to finish 13th in the SEC. Well, we finished as Co-SEC regular season champs. Usually in those type of “defy the odds” scenarios, a team loses seniors or a key player to the pros. Well, not in our case. We bring back all five starters, and the only major contributor we lost, was James Daniel. We bring back the SEC player of the year in Grant Williams, SEC coach of the year in Rick Barnes. So needless to say, the talent and the experience deserve this year’s hype.
This year’s team looks as such:
Last Season: 26-9 (13-5) Co-Regular Season SEC Champions
Head Coach: Rick Barnes (661-358, .649) 32nd year as a head coach.
Jordan Bone G 6-3 180 lbs JR (7.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.5 apg)
- Bone comes into the season as one of 20 players named to the 2019 Bob Cousy (Point Guard of the Year) Award watch list. He’s exactly the PG you want for this offense. He ended last year with a 2.82 Assist/turnover ratio, 2nd in the SEC and in school history. And in league play, he merely increased that ratio up to 3.7.
Jordan Bowden G 6-5 193 lbs JR (9.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.9 apg)
- Mr. Bowden here, he’s our 3 and D guy. He led the team in steals with (39) and shot 39.5% from deep last year. With this coaching staff, look for both of those already solid numbers to rise. Bowden can easily become a double figure scorer.
Admiral Schofield G/F 6-6 241 lbs SR (13.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.5 apg)
- The Jelly of the PB & J. Admiral went out and used pre-draft process this last season to get evaluated and get better. Last season he knocked down 64 three pointers, that is more than he had in his first 2 years combined. He shot it at 39.5%. Admiral is the desirable wing player of today’s game who can play and guard the 2-4. He is a physical specimen, he is our vocal leader, and he is our alpha dog. Jelly is going to be fantastic this year.
Grant Williams F 6-7 236 lbs JR (15.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.9 apg)
- And the Peanut Butter of the PB & J. Grant is your reigning SEC player of the year and comes into the year on the Naismith watch list and preseason 2nd team All-American. 15.2 ppg is extremely solid in college basketball, but it’s not the 25 ppg you would expect from a player of the year candidate. The reason I believe he won SEC player of the year, no one else drew the attention he did. If you really know basketball, you saw the trouble every team had drawing up multiple schemes to trap Grant on the touch or on his first dribble. Well, then he got great at passing out of the double team and our team thrived off the broken down defenses. And if you single covered him, well might as well chalk up 2. Grant is listed at 6’7, personally I don’t know if he’s that tall. He’s obviously a great athlete, but he’s not the Zion Williamson internet sensation type. What he does as well or better than anyone is college ball, he uses his 240 lbs. frame and strength to create space on the block. And that crafty footwork helps too.
Kyle Alexander F 6-11 215 lbs SR (5.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 0.3 apg)
- Oh Kyle, I am excited for your senior year. What people might not know is, Kyle Alexander could be our only 1st round draft pick next year. I know, (say this in a NegaVol voice) “How is he going to do that with 5 points and 5 rebounds a game?”. Well, he’s perfect for the modern day game. An athletic 6’11 rim runner, who blocks shots at a high rate, and stretches the floor vertically on a pick and roll or on a dump off. Yes, vertically. The man will catch quite a few alley-oops. He’s a fantastic rebounder, especially on the offensive end. His shot has a desirable form and he is clearly worked on that. It’s just getting that desirable form to knock down shots from 15 feet and out at a high clip. Really excited to see his development shine this season. The man has the family pedigree, dad was a former NBA player and his sister was a top 10 pick in the WNBA draft.
Key Bench Players:
Lamonte Turner G 6-2 195 lbs R-JR (10.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.2 apg)
- Lamonte is going to be such a value off the bench, considering our slight lack of depth at guard spots. He is last year’s SEC 6th man of the Year and led us in 3 pointers made at (70). He led the SEC in free throw shooting (.940; 47-50) and 3-point shooting (.452; 38-84) during SEC play. This guy is the most fearless one of the bunch. There is always that guy on the team where you question their shot selection one game, but then he warms your heart with a go ahead deep 3 in the closing seconds of the next game.
Derrick Walker F 6-8 236 lbs SO (1.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.3 apg)
- Derrick is an intriguing player coming into this year. After seeing his minutes increase somewhat in the 2nd half of the season after a much needed 10 point (5 for 5), 4 rebound game against South Carolina. He finished out the year at 8.8 minutes a game, but I look for that to rise this year due to his production and hopefully he worked out a few freshman defense struggles over the off-season.\
Potential X Factors:
Yves Pons: G/F 6-6 202 lbs SO:
- What do we know about Pons? He is a physically gifted Frenchman whose wingspan looks like it can touch sideline to sideline and he can jump out of the gym. He puts on a show every pregame with highlight dunks. When his man crosses half court, and he gets into an arms wide defensive stance, it looks like a pterodactyl spreading it wings in a Jurassic Park scene. He has the physical tools to become a lock down defender and could be dynamic attacking the rim on offense. But he has to put the skills with the physical gifts.
John Fulkerson: F 6-9 197 lbs R-SO:
- Fulkerson played well in his relatively limited minutes last year. He’s “that guy” every good team has that does the intangibles. He moves the ball well in the offense and has sneaky good bounce off the floor. Averaged 3.6 blocks a game his senior year of high school.
On to the schedule. As of right now it looks like we will be playing 8 ranked teams. Three of the eight teams are actually the top 3 in the preseason polls.
November 22nd (tentatively) vs. (1) Kansas: OK, this is not a for sure game. But, if we both win our first round of the NIT Preseason Tip-off, we’ll have a big time battle up in Brooklyn.
December 9th vs. (3) Gonzaga: Another neutral sight game. This one with be played at the Talking Stick Resort Arena out in Phoenix, AZ. Another experienced Gonzaga team that will match our discipline. Have to come out and play our best ball here.
December 15th @ Memphis: renewing the instate rivalry this year is going to be exciting. Penny Hardaway now the head coach for the Tigers, look for this to return to top ten battles for the next 3 years.
January 26th vs. (13) West Virginia: The Mountaineers come to Thompson-Boling for the SEC vs. Big 12 Showdown. Sagaba Konate is the nation’s best shot-blocker and has a frame to match up with Grant. Also, Huggy Bear and the full court press are never a fun night. Going to have to handle the pressure the entire game. And from the way they showed up in Charlotte, this fan base will travel well.
February 16th @ (2) Kentucky: We are headed to Rupp with all their young blood and Stanford transfer hype… We got them 2 out of 3 last year. I’d like this to be the start of the sweep.
March 2nd (2) Kentucky: They get to come to us where we gotten them the last 3 games. And 4 of the last 5.
March 5th (18) vs. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs come up to Knoxville for what should determine some high seeding battles in the SEC tourney.
March 9th @ (11) Auburn: The Vols take a visit down to Auburn to visit our old coaching sweetheart, Bruce Pearl. He lost 2 of his studs to the NBA, but still has plenty of talent left on that roster. Going to be a great finish to the regular season.
Possible weaknesses of this team:
1.) We don’t handle quick wings who can attack off the dribble. We saw that again Loyola, Nova, and Carolina.
2.) I think part of that is another weakness of our guards, lack of motivation. That’s another knock on both Bone and Bowden, was them taking plays off or just not having a sense of urgency for the full 40 minutes.
3.) I felt like everyone improved drastically from behind the arc. Either they made more or they improved their percentages. What could be scary, what if everyone had their best year and we just become pedestrian.
4.) Outside of Alexander, we don’t have anyone over 6’9. While our guys are built well, you can’t teach height.
5.) How do we help the lack of PG depth?
- We’ve seen a lot of guys over the years play the combo guard/forward position that kinda ran the offense for the Vols. Josh Richardson, Jordan McRae, and Armani Moore come to mind. Can Admiral be that guy if needed? Can he be a good enough AND willing enough passer, to be that if we are short handed for a stretch of games?
This coaching staff has been one, if not the best player development programs in the country. We don’t have multiple five stars on this roster. Hell, we barely have any four stars. In Barnes’ first year they made a player such as Kevin Punter go from a middle of the road scorer to an SEC Player of the year candidate. That’s nothing against Punter, but the stats speak for themselves, at 10.6 PPG to 22.6 PPG; 1.9 APG to 3.5 APG; 41.9 FG% to 46%. This helping Kyle Alexander into a viewed as 1st round draft pick next year. A guy who didn’t start playing organized basketball until his Junior year in high school.
We also bring back almost 90% of our minutes from last year’s team. We also have 3 guys who have started for 3 years. Our experience is hard to compare too, especially in today’s game. We are a constantly moving, make the extra pass type offense, who can also capitalize on mismatches when opportunities arise. We play with discipline offensively defensively. We don’t get caught up ego driven 1-on-1 basketball. And I think any “motivation” issues we have, will be out the window. We are a sound defensive team and have a lot of guys who can guard multiple positions. We cause a lot of turnovers due to just being disciplined longer. That 30 second shot clock is a long time in the game of basketball, especially to an overexcited 18-22 year old kid. We pressure the ball hard and rotate on defense, as well as anyone in the country.
As I listed and compared the Number 6 ranking in the preseason poll to the past two champs, I see many similarities.This is a quite confident bunch, that knows they have the experience, talent, and coaching to win a national championship.
Have an awesome week everyone. And as always, be sure to join us live on Facebook at 7pm EST Monday night where we we will recap the weekend! Thanks for reading and be sure to share this out to all your friends or just all the acquaintances that Facebook labels as your friends!