#114 Tennessee Men's Basketball 2017-2018 Preview

Tennessee Volunteers


2017-2018 Overall Rank: #114

Conference Rank: #12 SEC

 Tennessee Logo
The Tennessee Vols were picked as a bottom two team in last season’s preseason SEC media poll, but finished with a respectable 8-10 record in SEC play. Tennessee was an extremely young team that pulled off some upsets during conference play, most notably knocking off a very strong Kentucky team. If anyone is to get Tennessee back to the NCAA tournament, it is their third year head coach, Rick Barnes. Barnes has been successful at every school that he has coached and, at his previous job, led Texas to 17 NCAA tournaments in his 18 years in Austin. Barnes should have a more talented group to work with even though leading scorer Robert Hubbs is out of eligibility. The Vols add a quality group of incoming players who will compete for minutes and push the returners. It will be interesting to see how these playing time battles shake out and if this increase in talent can lead to more wins in an improved SEC.
2016-17 Record: 16-16, 8-10
2016-17 Postseason: None
Coach: Rick Barnes
Coach Record:  31-35 at Tennessee, 635-349 overall
Who’s Out:
The biggest loss for the Vols is leading scorer Robert Hubbs. Hubbs averaged 13.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in his senior season. The former top 25 recruit never lived up to the lofty expectations that are attached with a high ranking, but he was one of the SEC’s best players in his final season. Long range shooting was Hubbs’ biggest weakness as he shot a paltry 15.4% from three and only made four threes the entire season. Hubbs’ strength is his mid-range game where can shoot pullups off the dribble or post up smaller defenders. The 6-5 wing was also a great athlete who can defend at a high level and play above the rim in transition. The second biggest loss for Tennessee occurred during the season when Detrick Mostella was dismissed from the team at the start of conference play. Mostella was one of the team’s best shooters and scorers during his junior season. He averaged 10.5 points and shot 37.1% from three in 15 games before being dismissed. Mostella will use his final year of eligibility at Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Sophomore Shembari Phillips is also leaving the Tennessee program after scoring 6.2 points per game this past season. The 6-3 guard played a major reserve role in his two seasons with the Vols, but his playing time seemed to be in jeopardy when you look at the players joining the team. Phillips will continue his career at Georgia Tech where he will have two years of eligibility remaining after sitting out this season. Lew Evans was a well-traveled big man who played at Casper College (JUCO), Tulsa, and Utah State before transferring to Tennessee as a grad transfer. Evans provided size and experience to the Vols’ frontline and averaged 3.4 points per game off the bench. Kwe Parker is a super athletic guard who will transfer to junior college after playing sparingly as a freshman. Tennessee’s incoming players should be able to make up for these losses, but replacing Hubbs will be very difficult.
Who’s In:
Tennessee adds two prolific scoring guards to their backcourt with James Daniel III and Chris Darrington. Daniel is a grad transfer from Howard University so he will have one season of eligibility in Knoxville. Daniel missed last season with an ankle injury, but he led the nation in scoring in 2015-16. He averaged 27 points per game as a junior and, if healthy, should score 13 to 14 points per game in the SEC. Daniel was not an efficient scorer at Howard, but that was due to his huge role in the offense and the sheer volume of shots that he had to take. He also showed an elite ability to get to the free throw line since he shot an amazing 11 free throws per game. Joining him in the backcourt is junior college transfer Chris Darrington. Darrington was a JUCO All-American and will compete for minutes at both guard positions. Last season, he averaged 20.7 points, 5.1 assists, and shot 43.1% from three. It will be fascinating to see how Darrington and Daniel factor into the rotation because Tennessee’s two starting guards from last year are also returning. Darrington and Daniel are too talented to sit on the bench so expect Rick Barnes to employ some three guard lineups to get his most talented players on the floor.
The ultimate sleeper of Tennessee’s incoming class is French forward Yves Pons. Pons is a super athletic forward who can also shoot the ball from deep. Like most international prospects, Pons will pay huge dividends if he can successfully adjust to life in Tennessee. Recently, teams like Utah (Jakob Poeltl), Maryland (Alex Len), and Gonzaga (Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski) have had unbelievable success by grabbing relatively under the radar guys from overseas. These players were not as heavily recruited as highly rated American recruits, but became stars in college basketball. If Pons can find this level of success then Tennessee will be in great shape.
Three additional freshman will make their Tennessee debut this season: Jalen Johnson, Derrick Walker, and Zach Kent. Jalen Johnson redshirted last season and is a 6-5 wing known for his high-flying dunks. Derrick Walker is a bulky 6-7 forward whose strength should allow him to hold his own despite being undersized. Rick Barnes seems to like this type of player since Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield are quite similar to Walker. Finally, Zach Kent is a 6-10 center who can shoot from long range. These three freshmen look like promising players who will be major contributors as upperclassmen, but it is difficult to see how they will carve out playing time as freshmen.
Who to Watch:
The most important returning player is sophomore PF Grant Williams. Williams was not a highly rated recruit coming out of high school, but outperformed many of the players ranked ahead of him. As a freshman, he averaged 12.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Williams is often overlooked because he is severely undersized (6-5) for the PF position, but makes up for it with his long arms, toughness and physical play. Williams excels at scoring inside and uses his wide frame to carve out space in the paint. The bulky forward has flashed a nice shooting touch since he made 12 three pointers at a 37.5% clip, but still does most of his damage around the basket. He also ranked 5th in the SEC with 1.9 blocks per game. Surprisingly, Williams also logs a chunk of playing time at the center position where he usually plays alongside another undersized PF, Admiral Schofield. Schofield is a 6-4 and 240-pound junior who was the Vol’s sixth man last season. Schofield averaged 8.2 points and 4.4 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game and he should play a similar role and post similar numbers this season. Schofield also is a good outside shooter since he shot 38.9% from long range.
Redshirt freshman John Fulkerson and junior Kyle Alexander will play the bulk of the minutes at the center position. Fulkerson had carved out a role in the rotation before elbow and wrist injuries ended his freshman season prematurely. He averaged 4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in the 11 games before his injury. Alexander was the team’s starting center last season, but only played 14 minutes per game. Alexander is listed at 6-10 and is Tennessee’s best defensive center as he averaged 1 block and 4 rebounds per game in those limited minutes.
Three guards who earned major minutes last season also return, but could see less playing time this season due to a more crowded backcourt. Jordan Bowden was a starter as a freshman last year and averaged 7.9 points per game. Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bone also played around 20 minutes per game and split the PG position. Turner averaged 8.2 points and 2.7 assists, while Bone averaged 7.2 points and 2.9 assists. The three guards were not efficient shooters as freshmen, but their percentages should increase as they get older and more acclimated to the college level. They were thrust into prominent roles as freshmen, but could see less minutes with the additions of Darrington and Daniel in the backcourt and the addition of Pons on the wing.
Final Projection:
Overall, the Vols seem to have enough talent to make a jump in the SEC standings, but the league is much stronger from top to bottom this season than it has been recently. There is a good chance that Tennessee will be a better team, but will have less SEC wins than they did last season. The X-factor for Tennessee is Yves Pons. Pons gives Tennessee some much needed size and athleticism on the wing. If he can contribute immediately then it will drastically improve the Vols potential. Tennessee has some major question marks that come with adding so many new pieces. Mainly, how will these guards fit together? Turner and Bowden were starters last season but, with the additions of Daniel and Darrington, may have to play a smaller role this season. However, Darrington and Daniel are not without question marks themselves. How will Daniel adjust from having an ultimate green light at Howard to taking less shots at Tennessee? Can Darrington’s production translate from the JUCO level to the SEC? The Vols are not the only team to upgrade their roster so it will be interesting to see if adding these players is enough to replace Robert Hubbs and jump other teams in the standings. If Tennessee can address these concerns then they could conceivably finish in the middle of the conference, but we project them to slip to 12th in the SEC since some of the teams below them from last season added more talent for this upcoming year.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT/V16
Projected Starting Five:
Chris Darrington, Guard, Junior, DNP Last Season
James Daniel, Guard, Senior, DNP Last Season
Jordan Bowden, Guard, Sophomore, 7.9 points per game
Grant Williams, Forward, Sophomore, 12.6 points per game
Kyle Alexander, Center, Junior, 3.3 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 74.5 (145th in nation, 7th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 73 (198, 10)
Field-Goal Percentage: 42.2 (285, 11)
Field-Goal Defense: 42.7 (115, 10)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 5.9 (300, 13)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 32.6 (282, 12)
Free-Throw Percentage: 72.9 (94, 5)
Rebound Margin: 0.7 (163, 8)
Assists Per Game: 13.8 (152, 4)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.5 (118, 9)