Tennessee basketball, it’s great to have you back. We sure have missed you.
Yes, the boys over on the gridiron have really improved throughout the season and are keeping Vol Nation intrigued, but it was nice to get back inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
This 2019-2020 Vols basketball team came in with many questions marks. And here are the 5 biggest questions heading into the season:
- What is the new offensive identity of this team after losing Grant, Admiral, Alexander, and Bone?
- Are Bowden and LaMonte ready to step up to be the 1st and 2nd options in the Rick Barnes offense?
- Can we get true 5 star production out of Josiah James?
- With Uros being ruled ineligible, how in the world does Tennessee protect the paint?
- Every year under Rick Barnes every player improves, but someone always makes a DRASTIC improvement. Who is that player this year?
Now, all these questions weren’t getting answered in the first game of the season, but you will get some bits and pieces of answers.
To start, the offensive identity was not found against UNC Asheville. There were multiple different waves of good and bad play. Some mixes of lineups and styles throughout the game worked, and some did not.
Here are the things everyone does know:
- The Vols will get hustle put backs and well timed cuts from Fulkerson & Pons.
- Lamonte and Bowden should be taking a majority of the shots.
To kind of combo questions 1 & 2, this offense will revolve around Bowden and Turner. Last night though, both guys seemed to just have the first game nerves early on. Turner had some poor reads and missed passes early on in this game. Bowden also seemed to be pressing throughout the night. Turner got going a bit offensively after he settled in, but Bowden just didn’t have his night tonight.
Barnes showed the Bowden paint curl set tonight, that seemed to produce 80% of Bowden’s points last season. He hit a mid range jumper off that and also showed the options that can come off out of the set, and sent an Alley-oop to Fulky. Bowden is lethal off that down screen and many teams will scramble and double him, which he will have options to hit either post screener, depending on where the double comes from. So look for Bowden to have a small rise in assists due to that set this year.
It has to feel strange for Bowden & Turner to go from a 3rd, 4th, or 5th option a year ago, to pure out focal points of the offense. It probably just seems like a whole new team to them. That feeling will fade as the season progresses. Over the next couple of weeks Barnes will tinker and find ways to ensure this offense is set for Turner and Bowden to succeed.
Other than that, where are you going to get offense?
Most will answer that question with: Josiah-Jordan James.
Josiah-Jordan James is a 5 star player, yes, BUT he is not a dominant scorer. He’s got an all around game, that fits more of a Michael Carter Willaims or Draymond Green type stat sheet. Josiah is a triple double threat because of his versatility and size at the point guard position. He showed in this UNC Asheville game that he will be able to handle the ball and start the offense at any time. This helps if Barnes wants to play Bowden and Turner off ball. Josiah will produce some big time scoring nights, but don’t expect too many of those 20+ point nights. Just know he is the type of players who’s impact with be worth much more than a box score can show.
With the unfortunate news of 7 foot grad transfer, Uros Plavsic, getting ruled ineligible last Thursday, the question of interior defense raised its ugly head. In this game, Fulkerson & Pons seemed to handle their own in the paint. Fulkerson did hold the North Carolina high school shots blocked record for a reason.
UNC Asheville did not have a ton of size, but it’s great to see our “bigs” making guards question coming into the lane. And that fear mainly came from Yves Pons.
Pons really showed out defensively last night. There are blocks and then there are volleyball spikes, Pons gave us a few highlight volleyball spikes to drool over. If he can stay active and disciplined, he will help fill the role of a rim protector. It is not ideal for your 6’7 power forward to be that, but it’s the best the Vols have.
To answer that last question, I’m going to double up and say the player who makes the drastic improvement is, Yves Pons.
He just seemed to have more confident body language on the court. He never hesitated on his mid range turn around jumper or on his early 3 point shot. That is a small detail, but big improvement for Yves.
Pons has always been an energy play guy. Even last year he used his 7 foot wingspan and big time vertical to make a big block or catch a lob that sparked the team. It is the only game one, but it looked like a more confident player. I look for Yves to be a much better scorer and get a lot bigger role.
The young Vols Davonte Gaines & Olivier Nkamhoua both showed they will be able to provide value. Gaines is another do it all type player. Some have compared him to an Armani Moore, but just a slim fit Armani. He’ll be able to guard the 1-3 spots and looked to hold his own offensively too. Oliver Nkamhoua, Finland’s finest, will have to fill the back up center role. He will have to be able to spread out post players and force them to come guard him on the perimeter. Oliver looked agile and aggressive with the ball in his hands.
It’s a new year and has a core group Tennessee fans can fall in love with, just as they did before. This team has potential to be a near the top, in a good SEC. They are just going to have to answer some questions and concerns that can only be answered with time on the court.
Again, it is great to have the BasketVols back!
Stay tuned every Fridays for new podcast episodes of “Welcome to Volhalla”