Here we are folks. The Vols currently sit at 11-1 in the first week of January, and this Tennessee Vols basketball team is probably the best all around team in the country.
The Vols have made the most out of pre-conference play by playing a wide variety of tough opponents. This team has been tested in multiple ways and they have really shined in those tough moments. The Vols have played two top 10 ranked teams, in Gonzaga and Kansas. Went 1-1 against these two teams, and most will tell you we should have beat Kansas. They went to Memphis, rekindled a rivalry, won a physical game in a hostile environment, and overcame an unbelievable amount of whistles.
They beat Samford handedly, and a say what you want and call it a cupcake, but Samford can win the SoCon and be a low end seed. These are the teams you could play on the first weekend of the tournament. The Vols went out and beat 3 different ACC opponents in Louisville, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest. I know these aren’t top tier ACC foes, but it’s still the ACC in basketball.
Now, even though all those great things have happened so far, conference play is a different animal. These players are going against guys they’ve played against 3 or 4 times already in their career. These opponents are familiar with the Vols style of play and the Vols are familiar with theirs.
Lets start out with a few small concerns myself and others have made clear that could hinder this team in SEC play and could lead to set backs in the tournament.
- The Vols bench scoring has to increase. Right now – outside of Jordan Bowden – no other player is doing much offensively coming off the bench. Defensive efforts have been tremendous out of our role players, but offensively there is an evident dip in production.
- To segue from the first point, I have concerns with LaMonte Turner. It sounds like a return is a sure thing for Mr. Turner, but the questions is, “how long will it take him to get back into game shape.” He has been a volume shooter at some points, and that could cause a possible issue with how the offense has adjusted to his absence. The Vols have an offense that is very active and constantly moving and the last thing the Vols need is someone coming back from injury and slow down the game.
- Foul trouble, foul trouble, and more foul trouble! The Vols love to play physical basketball, but playing physically comes with its pitfalls and issues. As much as Grant Williams plays, he has to learn to choose his shots, so he can stay on the floor. I know Admiral stepped up as the primary scorer in both the Kansas and Gonzaga; but what happens if you have some of your best players on the bench during crunch time? When the Vols are in foul trouble it forces them to change to a zone defense, where they don’t exactly thrive due to giving up too many easy buckets and offensive rebounds. Whether it is Grant, Kyle, or Pons, they have to learn to keep out of foul trouble.
These concerns are adjustments that can be easily made, and it would be very easy to consider these negatives as a “reach.” If you have to go searching for problems, that’s a good problem to have.
Now, I mentioned at the beginning how I believe the Vols are the best overall team in college basketball. Here is a bullet list from Gary Parrish of CBS Sports that is a good short snip-it of why he believes the Vols are actually the number 1 ranked team in College Basketball.
- A win over a school in the top 10 of the Top 25 And 1.
- Zero losses to teams ranked outside of the top 10.
- Zero losses in regulation.
- Double-digit victories over unranked opponents.
These are the basic and bland stats that all top tier teams need to have at this point in their season. The main thing about the Vols is they don’t just beat bad teams – they beat them by a wide margin. When you lose to bad teams there is an evident lack of focus and desire to go out and play. The fact that the Vols haven’t had this issue shows Coach Barnes not only gets his guys ready to play but this team loves to go out and play.
Here’s why this team is ready to steam roll this conference..
- The Vols are winning by 19.1 points per game. This step on the throat mentality is tough to come by in college basketball now a days.
- The Vols are 2nd in the nation in assists at 21.1 per game. That type of play is about as unselfish as it gets.
- Jordan Bone is playing like the high level point guard you need to endure in SEC conference play. He has a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio so far this season, unreal speed and quickness, and he’s learned the art of change of pace with that speed. That change has led to him attacking the lane and also tacking up 14.3 points and 6.5 assists per game.
- The Vols still have Lamonte Turner coming back. I know earlier, this was listed as a possible concern, but it could also be a monster mid year addition to this team if he plays anywhere close to what he was last year. Also, the Vols just need the depth. Grant bring up the ball just isn’t what I want in a tough spot.
The SEC is not looking as tough as most thought it would be at start the season. As of January 5th, the Vols don’t play a top 25 opponent until Kentucky in mid-February. However, it’s still conference play and this Vols team has a MASSIVE target on its back. This team has shown that they fully embraces the target, and will fight to stay on top as the King of the Hill.
Game one of SEC play is at TBA against the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday at 3:30pm. Tres Winn and I will be there with two lucky ticket winners. Hopefully we will get to hear multiple versions of random Tennessee fans saying: “They may have beat us in football, but we have them on the basketball court”.
Have a great one guys and gals.
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