Tennessee is coming off one of its most successful seasons in recent memory, in which they were the co-SEC regular season champions and made a run to the SEC Tournament Championship game. After the 26-9 campaign ended in the Round of 32 against Loyola-Chicago the Volunteers are geared to compete at the top of the SEC again this season; this time with more experience and higher expectations compared to the beginning of the 2017 season.
Yes, very similar to Mississippi State the Volunteers are returning the mass majority of their team from last year; part of what makes this group so potentially terrifying. All five starters are back, including the defending SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams. Williams led Tennessee in scoring at 15.2 points per game and brings an unmatched level of toughness and leadership that earned him the honors he received last year. On a team filled with players who have been there and done that Williams is the recognized backbone of this team.
The second-in-command of this team is senior Admiral Schofield, who feels like he’s been around at Tennessee for a decade now. Schofield is the ultimate tweener and does so many different things for Tennessee. He’s tough and physical, consistently scored in double-digits for all but four games last season, plays solid defense, nearly shot 40% from three and does this all composited in a 6’5” 240 pound body.
Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden all started every game they played in last year and are all back again. All are upperclassmen that have refined roles on this Tennessee team. Whether it is Bone operating the point, Bowden being effective as a wing or Alexander protecting the rim they are roles that were played to well last year when they were still finding their identity. They already have that going into the 2018 season.
Oh, and if returning all five starters wasn’t terrifying enough for the SEC the Volunteers are also retaining the reigning SEC 6th Man of the Year Lamonte Turner who was Tennessee’s third leading scorer from last year.
Rick Barnes loses about 20 minutes of consistent bench production with the departure of Daniel, but it might be safe to assume that it won’t be too drastic of a loss considering he’s the only significant player from last season that isn’t on the team right now.
In direct correlation with Tennessee returning so much of last year’s team, they aren’t really adding anyone. DJ Burns is a four star prospect that will likely struggle to see minutes this season. The only other new face is walk-on Brock Jancek.
Projected Starting Five:
G: Jordan Bone
G: Jordan Bowden
F: Admiral Schofield
F: Grant Williams
F: Kyle Alexander
These five started 31 games last year to a record of 23-8.
Record Prediction: 26-6 (13-5 SEC)
Kentucky, Kansas and Gonzaga are to some people the top three teams in college basketball last season and Tennessee will have to play all three; including Kentucky twice. The SEC will be a bloodbath this year but Tennessee has a lot of favorable matchups and are without a monstrously difficult stretch of conference games. There’s an extremely solid chance that Tennessee can get a share of the SEC regular season crown again, and they honestly should be one of the best teams in college basketball.