2016-2017 Tennessee basketball season preview

Picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC, can coach Rick Barnes make strides in his second year on Rocky Top? Here is the 2016-2017 season preview for Tennessee basketball.

KNOXVILLE,TN - OCTOBER 05, 2016 - The University of Tennessee Volunteer Basketball Team during Men's Basketball practice at Pratt Pavilion in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics

On its third head coach since 2014, Tennessee is beginning to settle into the Rick Barnes era.

The Vols aren’t expected to make much noise this season, but do boast a talented group of young players, giving them more upward mobility than last season. In Barnes’ first season on Rocky Top, Tennessee finished 12th in the SEC at 15-19 (6-12 SEC).

You can’t do much worse, but in the preseason media poll, the Vols are slotted to finish 13th in the conference. After being replenished in its two weakest areas, point guard and post play, Barnes is anxious to make strides, even in another rebuilding season.


When looking down this roster, there aren’t big names or numbers that stand out. What this team does have, is a tremendous amount of athleticism and versatility.

However, much of the team is unproven, as Tennessee only returns one player that scored in double digits last season.

Barnes’ second class, ranked No. 48 in the nation and seventh in the SEC (according to 247Sports), is impressive for a team that finished at the bottom of its conference. For the most part, the class features fast, hyperathletic players that will contribute to the up-tempo style of play Barnes has been preaching since arriving on Rocky Top.

The guards will add to the team’s depth and ability to play fast throughout the course of a game, and the two post players in the class provide much-needed options for the Vols down low.

And while youth can be a blessing and a curse, the Vols’ young players will at least provide a spark and unpredictability for their opponents.


For a team that finished 12th last March and is predicted to finish 13th this coming one, weaknesses are always more visible than strengths. And with the current trend of basketball, three-point shooting is quickly becoming the most important aspect of a team.

The Vols finished tied for 11th in the SEC in three-point shooting percentage at .327. The bottom five teams in three-point shooting made up three of the five worst teams in the conference. It’s no coincidence.

To improve and compete this season, Tennessee has to improve from deep. Sophomore guard Shembari Phillips is the Vols’ most efficient shooter from three-point range returning. Phillips shot nearly 37 percent, but only attempted an average of just under two threes per game.

This upcoming season, Barnes is boasting senior leader Robert Hubbs III as an improved shooter and will rely on the guard to shoulder much of the perimeter scoring load. But compared to the rest of the SEC, the Vols will continue to lack production from three-point range.

Another glaring weakness for this team last season was defense. Of the 351 teams in college basketball, Tennessee finished 263rd in points allowed per game with 75.2. Obviously inexcusable, Barnes is more optimistic about the team’s defensive efforts this season, citing the team’s depth.

“We’ve got guys now who can go all out,” said Barnes. “And if they get in some foul trouble, we think we’ve got guys who can come in and we can keep moving on with it (aggressive defense).”

Players to watch

G Lamonte Turner, RS Fr. — Point guard play was a major struggle for the Vols last season, as they were forced to employ multiple players out of their natural position to run the offense. But after a redshirt season of being ineligible, Lamonte Turner is finally suiting up for Tennessee. Not only does he fill what was a major hole in the offense, but is one of the most talented players on the roster. Turner came to Knoxville as the 26th ranked point guard in the nation according to 247Sports, and is set to finally prove the hype.

F Admiral Schofield, Soph. — One of the few pleasant surprises, Schofield was an efficient player for Tennessee last season, averaging 7.6 points and 4.0 rebounds in just 18.7 minutes per game. The linebacker-like sophomore is expected to build off that, and was one of Sports Illustrated’s featured players in its Breakout Sophomore Formula. The 6-foot-4 forward is extremely athletic and versatile, and if he does indeed breakout, can take Tennessee to another level.

G Robert Hubbs III, Sr. — One of two seniors, Hubbs will be forced to shoulder much of the load for the young Vols. That not only includes leading the team scoring, but a high ability to lead an extremely inexperienced squad. While the young talent Tennessee now possesses has been noted, a lot of the team’s success will lie with how Hubbs progresses as a player (averaged just 10.6 ppg last season). As Hubbs goes, so will this team.

Matchups to watch

The Maui Invitational— Normally a matchup with a specific opponent would go here, but this early season tournament will give a first look at this team against quality opponents. With Tennessee putting out so much inexperience, the team is a major wildcard. Against a top program like Wisconsin in the Vols’ first game in the tournament, what the team needs to work on moving forward will be clear. The team tips off its vacation in Maui on Nov. 21 against the Badgers.

Vanderbilt (home and away)  Tennessee likely won’t compete with top SEC teams, so these matchups with in-state rival Vanderbilt will be important to see how the Vols progress over the season. The games will also gauge how the young team can compete with a middle of the road conference opponent like the Commodores. The Vols play in Nashville on Jan. 14, and host Vandy later in the season on Feb. 22.

Jan. 31 at Auburn  Auburn, predicted to finish 11th in the SEC, will be an opportunity for Tennessee to gain momentum in the middle of conference play with a big road win. While the game doesn’t have huge implications in the SEC standings, it has relevance for the Vols’ fan base. Pearl, the beloved former coach of Tennessee, is fighting to turn the Auburn program around, and Barnes and the Vols can work to separate themselves from the bottom tier of the conference with a win here.


While the Volunteers are slated to finish near the bottom of the SEC yet again, a host of newcomers and breakout players will lead the team to a tenth-place finish. While it’s not much of a climb, Rick Barnes will see a small amount of the fruit of his labor on Rocky Top. However, a postseason tournament is out of reach for Tennessee in 2016-2017.

Edited by David Bradford

Featured image by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

+ posts

Dalton, a firm believer that sporting events are best spent on Twitter, is an Assistant Sports Editor for TNJN and a sophomore studying Journalism at the University of Tennessee. Two of his favorite pastimes include beating his roommates at 2k and remaining in awe of the amount of stories fellow editor David Bradford writes. Twitter: @dk_writes