The Tennessee Volunteers tipoff its 2017-18 basketball season Friday night against Presbyterian. The Volunteers were picked to finish 13th in the conference, but many feel as if Rick Barnes and the Vols are underrated. Caleb Souders and Sean Stumpfl discuss whether or not Tennessee will be heading to the big dance in March.
Stumpl: The Vols finished last season ranked 12th in the SEC, with a 15-19 record and just six conference wins. Tennessee’s less than perfect season is nothing to boast about, but there are some arguments that can be made as to why the Vols did not perform very well.
For starters, Rick Barnes was only in his second season with the Vols which poses the idea that he is still trying to discern what kind talent he has on his team. Coach Barnes runs a pretty high-tempo offense which is good for guys who can score like Robert Hubbs and Grant Williams.
On another note, the Vols lost one of their best rebounders due to injury in forward John Fulkerson. The redshirt-freshman averaged four rebounds-per-game before his injury, which was a huge asset to the Volunteer offense. Of course, Admiral Schofield tried his best to pick up the slack, but not having two dominant forces inside the paint was a major set back. If the Vols can stay healthy, they might be able to win a few more conference games.
Souders: When the SEC media picks came out and this team was picked to finish second-to-last in 2017-18 in the conference I was shocked. Being as close to the program as all of us students are, we are a little biased, but the expectations are certainly dance-or-bust for Rick Barnes this season.
With the experience Tennessee has gained in James Daniel III and Chris Darrington, two high-scoring guards that fit well in Barnes’ system, the Vols could make a serious push in SEC play and especially when it comes tournament time.
Tennessee was on fire in the Carson-Newman game, given it was an exhibition game, and possibly the weakest team Tennessee will face all year, but they still performed well. Yves Pons, the prized recruit of Rick Barnes this season, is a high-flying player that could really electrify the second unit of the Vols this year.
Dunks aren’t everything, but they sure do electrify a crowd.
Stumpfl: The Volunteers are hungry for a positive season this year, and I think they have key players who are going to rise to the occasion. On too many occasions last season, the Vols came up short in the final minutes of games, most notably against their conference rival Georgia.
Besides winning conference games, the Vols will have the advantage of hosting some prominent non-conference teams at Thompson-Boling. These teams include No. 9 North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Tennessee will be in a great position if they can come away with a win in these games specifically.
Souders: I fully expect Tennessee to win 20 games this season. If they do not, the Vols could be searching for a new coach in 2018. Barnes, in his three years thus far in Knoxville, hasn’t upset fans due to a sort of rebuild mode after Cuonzo Martin left for California several years ago.
Now the wounds are healed and Tennessee has some serious talent on the court, Barnes is fully expected to finish in at least the top-six of the conference and make a push for the NCAA Tournament. The Vols took soon-to-be National Champion North Carolina to the wire last season in Chapel Hill, and are fully capable of competing with teams of that caliber this season.
Edited by Ben McKee
Feature image courtesy of Brad Blackwelder