Forman Files: Way too early 2015-16 Lady Vols basketball preview

Lead sports staff writer Sam Forman breaks down all things Tennessee athletics, beginning with an early comprehensive preview of this year’s Lady Vols’ basketball team.

If you are a Tennessee fan already wondering how this year will fair for the Lady Vols basketball team, you are in luck.

We all know that Tennessee missed out on a trip to Tampa and the Final Four last season. However, it is now time to move past the disappointment of how the season ended for the Lady Vols and look to 2015-16 as Tennessee steps back on “The Summitt.”

Pat Summit Statue, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. //Photo by Ryan McGill
Pat Summit Statue, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. //Photo by Ryan McGill

Now don’t get me wrong, last year’s team should never be forgotten for a number of reasons. They made it to the Elite Eight and won 30 games for the first time since the 2010-11 season. The class of 2015 accomplished more than most and cemented their legacy, but they may be remembered most for being the last class recruited by legendary coach Pat Summitt.

While we should always remember them, it is time to start looking at this upcoming season. It’s early, but everyone loves to look at the upcoming season to try to figure out what’s going to happen.

So, here is what you can expect from the 2015-16 Lady Vols basketball team.

First off, let’s look at what we can pretty much guarantee will happen. The Lady Vols pep band will be in the stands and will play a lot, A LOT, of Rocky Top (which everyone in orange will be perfectly fine with). Holly Warlick will be the head coach. The court will still be called “The Summitt.” The Lady Vols will wear Nike gear for the first time and will have a Smokey Grey alternate uniform. But outside of that list, is anything else mostly a guarantee? Probably not.

Here is a list of things that could happen, in my opinion:

Bashaara Graves will become part of the heart and soul of the team along with Andraya Carter (taking over for Isabelle Harrison, Cierra Burdick and Ariel Massengale). Speaking of Graves, she will be a double-double threat every game and will be the No. 2 scorer on the team. Carter will lead the team in steals and minutes played. She also will be in the top four on the roster in scoring.

Mercedes Russell will start the season healthy and play in 90 percent of Tennessee’s games. She will average a double-double and lead the Lady Vols and the SEC in rebounding, all while making first-team All-SEC.

Jamie Nared will pick up were she left off at the end of the season and be a go-to player in clutch moments. She will average double digits in points and have at least six double-doubles.

Alexa Middleton will become one of the nation’s top three-point shooters and has the potential to become the next Shanna Zolman, Kara Lawson or Angie Bjorkland (take your pick of the three).

Kortney Dunbar will become a better overall player and get more minutes this season. She could be a massive threat from three-point range, moving into a role similar to what Burdick was for Tennessee the last four years. She will be a fan favorite and will be the best at getting the team hyped up.

Nia Moore will average double-digit minutes in 2015-16 and average eight points and eight rebounds per game. Jordan Reynolds will see a decreased role, but will be one of the best momentum changer in the country when she comes off the bench and puts up around ten points per game. Jasmine Jones will come off the bench and average at least six rebounds per game.

But possibly, Tennessee’s biggest weapon in 2015-16 will be someone that was on the team last season, but couldn’t play after transferring from North Carolina. Diamond DeShields is a name Tennessee fans should get used to and a name everyone in the SEC should fear.

DeShields was the USBWA National Freshman of the Year in 2014 and claimed the same award from espnW. Additionally, she was the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2014 and made the ACC All-Freshman team. Her performance in the postseason led to her being named to the All-ACC Tournament team.

DeShields will lead Tennessee in scoring and assists, garnering All-American status and helping lead Tennessee back to the promised land.

At 5′ 8,” Te’a Cooper was the No. 7 ranked point guard in the ESPN Top 100 in the class of 2015. She might just be the SEC Freshmen of the Year in 2015-16.

The Lady Vols also added 5′ 11″ wing player Jamesha Jackson to the class of 2015 with Cooper. Jackson was the No. 35 overall player in the class and the No. 7 best wing. The Murfreesboro native will bring aggressive play near the rim for the Lady Vols, most likely coming off the bench.

That’s a lot to take in. But assuming all that happens, your 2015-16 NCAA Women’s Basketball National Champions will be the Tennessee Lady Volunteers and this time next year, we will be talking about the ‘grind for 10.’

In all reality, Tennessee will have one of the most talented rosters in the country and will compete for the SEC and a national title in the 2015-16 season. The Lady Vols are equipped to win 30-plus games.

There is at least a shot that this year’s squad could look a lot like last year’s Connecticut team. At the end of the day, Warlick has the program trending upward once again and it should be a great season for Tennessee.

Edited by Cody McClure