Tennessee had a poor year last season after losing a lot of their production the year before. Rick Barnes has a squad this year ready for a deep run in the postseason. With one of the top recruiting classes and a lot of returning experience, there’s plenty to be excited about in Knoxville.
2019 Record: 17-14 (9-9), 8th in SEC
Key Additions: (G) Jaden Springer (No.16 prospect), (G) Keon Johnson (No.19 prospect), (F) Corey Walker (No.72 prospect), (G) Victor Bailey Jr. (Oregon transfer), (F) E.J. Anosike (Sacred Heart transfer)
Last year’s struggles were mostly expected for the Volunteers but injuries didn’t make it any easier. After losing their top three scorers from the year before, star guard Lamonte Turner went down with a season ending injury after just 11 games. The result was a young, inexperienced team with growing pains.
Tennessee went 8-5 out of conference with one of the harder schedules in the league. They managed solid wins against then No.20 Washington and No.20 VCU. The losses piled up though against stiff competition including Florida State, Memphis, Cincinnati, Wisconsin and Kansas.
Conference play was an up and down roller coaster that ended right at .500. They earned a big home win against No.6 Kentucky, stealing the lead late against the Wildcats. Overall the Vols were likely looking a an NIT invitation and missing the big dance.
Two returning freshmen will hold on to their starting spot from last year. Santiago Vescovi played very well after earning eligibility about midway through the season. He led the team in assists after the Turner injury and proved to be a capable scorer. His main issues were too many turnovers and a lackluster defense.
James is the highly touted recruit from the 2019 class. The former five star started 26 games last year but struggled with offensive efficiency. He’ll need to have better shot selection to improve on just a 37% two-point field goal percentage.
Jaden Springer is this year’s prized jewel of the recruiting class. He has a similar frame to James with good size and a long reach. Both players have a good ability to get to the rim and are very athletic.
Pons and Fulkerson are the leaders of the team. Fulkerson earned First Team All-SEC while Pons got Second Team. Pons also earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year last year and is a terror around the rim with 2.4 blocks per game. Both players will help lead an offense that was Rick Barnes worst in 2019 since he came to Tennessee.
Two incoming freshmen will get good minutes off the bench this year. Keon Johnson and Corey Walker will be exciting to watch. Johnson is another guard who could give Jaden Springer some competition for the starting position. Walker is very athletic and will be right in the mix for minutes in a loaded frontcourt.
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Two transfers will provide some good leadership for a team with mostly underclassmen. Victor Bailey got limited playing time with Oregon causing him to transfer. He has a good shot from three and does very well protecting the ball.
E.J. Anosike was a monster for Sacred Heart last year. He led the Pioneers in scoring and rebounding, averaging a double-double last season. He was All-NEC First Team and is definitely ready to play in the SEC. He’s a big addition that adds a serious force in the post.
Tennessee is loaded this year and should has a very good shot at winning the SEC. They return four starters and bring in a trio of some seriously talented freshmen. Mix in two solid transfers and this team has all the pieces to make a run to the Final Four.
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