Tennessee Basketball Preview: #9
Overall Rank: #9
Conference Rank: #2 Southeastern Conference
2008-09: 21-13, 10-6
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Bruce Pearl (98-37 at Tennessee, 415-121 overall)
Tennessee underachieved last year, but it was a young team that relied on some unproven talent who had some big shoes to fill. It took some time for the Volunteers to find their way and consistency was an issue. However, Coach Bruce Pearl’s team still won 21 games and made the NCAA Tournament and now they return every player of importance and the high expectations are warranted.
Key Losses: none
Point guard was a problem last year and junior college Melvin Goins will compete for a starting job right away. Even if he does not win that job, the 5-11 speedster will at least give the team a capable backup. Josh Bone, a transfer from Southern Illinois and Skylar McBee will help bolster the depth on the perimeter. Yet, outside of Goins, it is power forward Kenny Hall who has the skills to make an impact right away. Hall is a true low post scorer and while the Vols have a superb frontcourt, they could use a big body who will stay in the paint.
Bobby Maze did an admirable job running the point. His assist to turnover ratio was two-to-one and he averaged 8.2 points per game. But his minutes will likely go down with the addition of Goins. Josh Tabb spent some time playing the point, but now he will be able to play off the ball and provide the team with some solid defense off the bench. Cameron Tatum was the team’s sixth man a year ago and is a good, albeit streaky, three-point shooter. Scotty Hopson and J.P. Prince are the likely starters on the wing. Hopson had huge expectations heading into his freshman campaign and he did pretty good with his 9.2 points per game. If his outside shot starts falling more consistently, he will turn into the dominating scorer that everybody thought he would be from day one. Prince is not much of a shooter, but he does everything else. He was the backcourt’s top scorer last year and also averaged 4.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals.
Wayne Chism is the big man who will spend most of his time under the basket, although he does have the ability to stretch out the defense with his three-point shooting ability. Even though Chism spends quite a bit of time on the perimeter, he is a great rebounder and a decent shot blocker. Brian Williams is an underappreciated rebounder who grabbed 5.6 rebounds per game despite only averaging 16.4 minutes. Add the emerging sophomore Emmanuel Negedu, if he can stay healthy, and Hall to the rotation and Coach Pearl has more than enough bodies to go ten deep without much of a drop off in talent.
Who to Watch:
It seems like every year we wonder if Tyler Smith is coming back or going to the NBA. Once again, Smith is back in college and the do-it-all forward is poised for a huge senior season. Last year he easily led the team with 17.4 points per game. He got to the free-throw line an incredible 6.5 times per contest, but he is not just a slasher or post player…Smith can hit the long ball, although he would be better off sticking to his mid-range game and attacking the basket. No matter how he does it, Smith will score in bunches and help the team out on the glass and create open looks for his teammates.
Last year’s relatively disappointing season has somewhat stymied the expectations of the 2009-2010 Tennessee team, and that should not be the case with so many players returning. This is a team that has the talent, depth and experience to win the Southeastern Conference and make a deep, deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Bobby Maze, Senior, Guard, 8.2 points per game
Scotty Hopson, Sophomore, Guard, 9.2 points per game
J.P. Prince, Senior, Guard, 9.9 points per game
Tyler Smith, Senior, Forward, 17.4 points per game
Wayne Chism, Senior, Forward, 13.7 points per game
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