2008-09 Tennessee Basketball Preview: #10
Overall Rank: #10
Conference Rank: #1 SEC
2007-08: 31-5, 14-2, 1st East
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
Coach Bruce Pearl has done an amazing job at Tennessee and none, at least so far, were as great as the 2007-2008 campaign. Coach Pearl led the team to an SEC regular season championship and the team’s first number one ranking in school history. Just how far this program has come during Coach Pearl’s three year tenure can be shown with the expectations heading into year four. The Volunteers lose five key contributors, including the top two scorers, but once again Tennessee is the favorite to win the SEC.
The biggest losses are in the backcourt where the Volunteers lost Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith, Ramar Smith and Jordan Howell. Lofton was one of the best long range shooters the SEC has ever seen and led the team with 15.5 points per game. JaJuan Smith nearly matched Lofton’s outside shooting output and ended his senior campaign averaging 14.4 points per contest. Ramar Smith, who started 17 games at the point, was dismissed from the team. He did a decent job controlling the game and keeping the turnovers down, but finding a new point guard is an important thing to keep an eye on this year. Jordan Howell was another part-time starter and averaged 4.3 points and 2.2 assists during his senior year. The lone loss up front is Duke Crews. The 6-7 forward mostly came off the bench last year, but he was a capable scorer around the basket and a solid rebounder.
The obvious need is in the backcourt. At the point guard position Tennessee hopes Bobby Maze is the answer. Maze started his collegiate career at Oklahoma where he started five games and averaged 5.6 points and 2.1 assists. Last year he went to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas and tallied 20.7 points, 6.8 assists and 1.7 steals per contest. Maze is a speedy 6-2 guard and his ability to drive the lane should open up plenty of scoring opportunities for everybody else. If Maze struggles, there are few other options to run the show. Incoming freshman Daniel West will need some time to adjust his game to the level of the SEC and having to miss some early season practice time while waiting for NCAA clearance does not help. A couple of talented shooting guards will help fill the large void left behind by Lofton and JaJuan Smith. At 6-7, shooting guard Scotty Hopson has the size to shoot over just about any defender. The highly touted incoming freshman is expected to step into a starting role from day one and he certainly has the skills to put up plenty of big numbers in the scoring column. Cameron Tatum only played in seven games last year as a freshman due to a knee injury, but now that he is healthy the redshirt freshman will provide the unit with some quality depth. The same can be said for the athletic 6-7 swingman Renaldo Woolridge. You can never have too many big men and Emmanuel Negedu and Philip Jurick will look for minutes off the bench as freshmen.
Who to Watch:
And it is in the frontcourt where the Volunteers have quite a bit of returning talent. Tyler Smith is naturally a small forward, but he will likely start at the four spot…at least early in the campaign. After averaging 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists as a sophomore, big things are expected from the early favorite to take home the conference player of the year honors. Wayne Chism will be by his side. Chism tallied 9.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game a year ago and handle the majority of the minutes at the five spot. Those two played well together last year and their leadership and chemistry should be even better this time around. Brian Williams and Ryan Childress are relatively experienced big men who will fight with the newcomers for minutes off the bench.
The most important player on the team might end up being J.P. Prince*. The 6-7 junior is extremely versatile and was a great sixth man last year. If Prince is ready for a starting role, Tennessee will have plenty of scoring options in a system that knows how to utilize all those weapons.
*Prince recently injured his right shoulder, and will be out first month of the season.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Bobby Maze, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Scotty Hopson, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
J.P. Prince, Junior, Guard, 8.0 points per game
Tyler Smith, Junior, Forward, 13.6 points per game
Wayne Chism, Junior, Forward, 9.9 points per game