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Preseason Preview: Tennessee

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(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

The first official practices of the 18-19 college basketball season are in the books and Paint Touches is celebrating by counting down every Marquette opponent from worst to first. Each preview will contain a look at how the opponent did last season, who they lose, who they gain, reasonable expectations for their season, and our own prediction of how their matchup(s) with Marquette will go. This series will start with the most under of underdogs and progress all the way up to most unbeatable of opponents. We will be releasing one a day ending the day before Marquette’s exhibition with Carroll. That’s right, when this series ends, Marquette basketball will finally be here.

Team: Tennessee Volunteers
17-18 Record: 26-9 (13-5 SEC)
Postseason?: As a 3 seed they made it to the round of 32 but were upset by everyone’s favorite Cinderella, Loyola (IL)
17-18 KenPom: 13
Date: November 23, 2018 (If at all)
Location: Barclays Center (Brooklyn, NY)
Coach: Rick Barnes (4th season)
Projected KenPom Range: 1-20
Projected Conference Finish: 2/14 in the SEC

Departures from 17-18
James Daniel III: 2nd Man off the Bench: 19.7 mpg, 5.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 2.8 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.1 bpg, 1.4 tpg, .366 FG%, .372 3P% (Graduated)
Chris Darrington: 5th Man off the Bench: 8.4 mpg, 2.6 ppg, 0.6 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.6 tpg, .365 FG%, .316 3P% (Transferred to Toledo)
10% of scoring, 5% of rebounding, 22% of assists, 16% of steals, 3% of blocks, 19% of 3PM

Arrivals:
DJ Burns: 4-star C, ranked #108 by 247 Composite
Zach Kent: 2017 3-star C, ranked #203 by 247 Composite (returns from redshirt)
Brock Jancek: Walk-on PF

Probable Starters:
PG: Lamonte Turner: 6’2” 195 lb RSJR: 25.3 mpg, 10.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.1 bpg, 1.2 tpg, .399 FG%, .395 3P%
SG: Jordan Bowden: 6’5” 193 lb JR: 27.9 mpg, 9.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.3 bpg, 1.1 tpg, .394 FG%, .395 3P%
SF: Admiral Schofield: 6’6” 241 lb SR: 28.1 mpg, 13.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.4 bpg, 1.8 tpg, .447 FG%, .395 3P%
PF: Grant Williams: 6’7” 236 lb JR: 28.8 mpg, 15.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.6 spg, 1.3 bpg, 2.1 tpg, .473 FG%, .120 3P%
C: Kyle Alexander: 6’11” 215 lb SR: 20.3 mpg, 5.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.6 spg, 1.7 bpg, .681 FG%, 1.00 3P% (1-1)

Probable Bench:
Jordan Bone: 6’3” 174 lb JR PG
John Fulkerson: 6’9” 197 lb RSSO PF
Derrick Walker: 6’8” 236 lb SO PF
DJ Burns: 6’9” 272 lb FR C
Zach Kent: 6’11” 225 lb RSFR C

Probable Benchwarmers:
Yves Pons: 6’6” 209 lb SO SF
Jalen Johnson: 6’6” 187 lb RSSO SG
Brad Woodson: 6’1” 177 lb SR PG
Jacob Fleschman: 6’3” 170 lb RSSO PG
Lucas Campbell: 6’4” 185 lb SR SG
Brock Jancek: 6’8” 212 lb FR PF

Notes:
• Tennessee was one of the biggest surprises of the 17-18 season. Not many experts had them pegged as an NCAA tournament team. In fact, many in the media were picking them to finish near the bottom of the SEC. The Volunteers shocked them all by not only making the tournament but earning a 3 seed and being one of the top 20 teams in the country. No one is sleeping on the Vols this season. From that squad that finished #13 in the KenPom rankings, Tennessee returns almost everyone. Two backup guards are the only players that they lose, and they are gaining two big men that could be instant contributors off the bench. With all that returning production, Tennessee is almost a unanimous pick to start in the top ten and even have some hype as a final four contender.
• The unquestioned star for the volunteers is big man Grant Williams. Looking at him, you wouldn’t guess that he’s 6’7” 241 lbs but he absolutely plays like it. Williams’ game is shaped by a very high motor and an absurd level of strength. Williams is at the center of every rebounding opportunity and has enough explosiveness to outjump larger posts and enough strength to rip balls away even when outnumbered. He uses this same strength going for dunks which often came at the expense of multiple defenders being put on posters as he went over them. He pairs this power with some shiftiness and a spin move that leaves most posts standing there looking stunned. He has a little baby hook that is almost impossible to defend. Williams weakness to his game is shooting, almost all of his damage is done well inside the paint. Even if defenders know he is going there, its not like they have much ability to stop him. On the other end, Williams uses that athleticism to deny shots. His 1.3 blocks per game was only second to 6’11” Kyle Alexander.
• The “general” of the Volunteers is rising senior Admiral Schofield. He is a bruising wing with a frame built like a tank. Schofield has finesse to his game, but it is unneeded. He has the strength and athleticism to simply overpower and bully any defender who dare get between him and the basket. If there was a highlight reel dunk in Knoxville, chance are it was Schofield who made the delivery. As if his ability around the rim wasn’t enough, Schoefield is also a high-level shooter. He was second on the team with 64 3PM and that came with a team leading 39.5% accuracy. Williams is the best player but Schofield may be the most valuable.
• The Tennessee backcourt is manned by a pair of sharpshooting and game managing juniors. Lamont Tuner is the better scorer of the two. He is a live by the three die by the three kind of player. Over two thirds of his FGs last season came from beyond the arc. He has more than a few 20-point performances to his name, but he is equally likely to have a night where he goes 1-8 (vs. UNC) 1-9 (vs Villanova), or 1-6 (@Mizzou). His counterpart Jordan Bowden is more of a defensive specialist. His 1.1 steals per game led the team and he has superior length for locking down opposing guards. He is one of the lynchpins of Tennesee’s sixth ranked defense (per KenPom). His offense isn’t as prolific but it is reliable. While neither is an elite distributor, both are strong ball handlers who can manage the offense well.
• Tennessee lacks a dominant true center, but they do sport a roster with insane depth at that position. Getting the starting nod will likely be rising senior Kyle Alexander. The native Canuck spent two years towards the back of the rotation before upgrading his role this past season. He’s not dominant in any sense of the word but he’s efficient, grabs rebounds, and protects the rim very well. He doesn’t shoot very often but when he does it goes in with an eFG% north of 68%. He only made it into double digit scoring seven times and never scored more than 14. If he’s not feeling it, Coach Barnes will have plenty of options as virtually the entire bench will be made up of centers. John Fulkerson and Derrick Walker weren’t much more than big bodies last season but they could enjoy bigger roles. Also entering the mix is 4-star freshman DJ Burns and redshirt freshman Zach Kent. This depth will let the Volunteers play aggressive and up tempo defense as fouls and fatigue should be of limited concern.
• While Tennessee has plenty of depth in the post, their backcourt depth is a bit of a concern. While Grant Williams can play the three, its not a position you want him in for long periods of time. That leaves the quartet of Schofield, Bowden, Turner, and PG Jordan Bone to cover the three positions in the backcourt. Make no mistake, those four make an elite backcourt. But it goes to show how precarious a basketball season can be. One injury to the backcourt could leave Tennessee in a real lurch. If that were to happen, seldom used backups Yves Pons or Jalen Johnson would need to take big steps forward to avoid a drop off.

Prediction:
• This is a game that Marquette can win, but it should not be expected. Tennessee is likely going to be a top ten team when/if the two teams faceoff. They are bigger, stronger, and have a lot of experience playing together. Marquette has a much more potent offense but Tennessee was one of the elite defenses of last season and that will likely make the difference. If Marquette is firing on all cylinders, they could pull of the upset. Unfortunately, I think Bowden locks down Markus, Williams bullies Sam, and the Vols carve up Marquette’s defense. Vols keep Marquette at arm’s length all game and win by 10.

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Categories: Analysis, Home, Offseason, Previews

Author:Ryan Jackson

Texas A&M Professional, Marquette Fantatic

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