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SEC Hoops Preview Series: Tennessee

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To get everyone up to speed on the upcoming basketball season, AOG is running down all fourteen teams in the SEC. Today's preview: the Tennessee Volunteers.

Nik Stauskas can't believe Josh Richardson's facial expressions.
Nik Stauskas can't believe Josh Richardson's facial expressions.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Yeah, basketball season is still a few weeks away. On the other hand, basketball season is a few weeks away, and to get everybody around here back up to speed on the state of hoops in the SEC, I'm writing previews for each of the 14 teams. All work is my own, though I am relying on kenpom.com and sports-reference.com for some statistics. Teams will be previewed in reverse order of their projected finish (according to yours truly), so as this is the second of 14 previews, this is the team I project to finish 13th in the conference.

Tennessee Volunteers 2014-15 Basketball Preview

How Did We Get Here?

You might have heard, because as a Vanderbilt fan it was a moment to point across the state and laugh at the Vols, that around the middle of February a bunch of Tennessee fans circulated a petition (because all good Athletic Departments pay attention to petitions) calling for the removal of head coach Cuonzo Martin and the reinstatement of deposed former head coach Bruce Pearl.

At the time, the Vols were sitting at 15-10, 6-6 in SEC play, and looked like a longshot for the NCAA Tournament in spite of Ken Pomeroy's belief that they were a top 25 team.  From then on, the Vols won five of their last six in the regular season and were one of the last four teams in the NCAA Tournament, eventually making a run to the Sweet Sixteen.

A couple of weeks after the Vols' run ended, though, Martin decided to send a hearty one-finger salute to the Tennessee fan base by taking the Cal job -- a lateral move, at best.  Perhaps Martin saw the writing on the wall, that with three starters graduating and a fourth (Jarnell Stokes) declaring for the NBA draft, Big Orange Nation would be back at his throat again after another disappointing year.  To further annoy the Tennessee fan base, this happened well after Pearl had agreed to become the new head coach at Auburn, effectively rendering him unavailable.

Then all hell broke loose.  Two reserves who likely would have played bigger roles for Tennessee in 2015 decided to transfer.  Martin's entire recruiting class asked out of their letters of intent.  What was set to be a rebuilding year quickly became a dumpster fire.

Enter Donnie Tyndall.  Formerly of Southern Miss, and Morehead State before that, Tyndall came in and put together a patchwork roster consisting of the few holdovers from last year's Volunteer team as well as a couple of recruits brought with him from Southern Miss, a couple of transfers, and some more recruits that few power conference schools wanted.  There's no doubting Tyndall's coaching credentials, but even he will be hard-pressed to put together a winning team with this roster.

Projected Depth Chart

Quick note: For starters, I'm using the five "traditional" positions on the floor even if the players may be listed otherwise on the roster, so you may see guards appearing as forwards, forwards appearing as centers, etc. Recruiting rankings are the composite rankings from 247sports.com.

Losses
  • Jordan McRae (32.2 mpg, 18.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg; graduated)
  • Jarnell Stokes (32.4 mpg, 15.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg; NBA draft)
  • Jeronne Maymon (28.3 mpg, 9.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg; graduated)
  • Antonio Barton (25.1 mpg, 7.5 ppg, 2.1 apg; graduated)
  • Darius Thompson (16.8 mpg, 2.5 ppg, 2.4 apg; transfer/Virginia)
  • D'Montre Edwards (12 games, 6.0 mpg, 2.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg; graduated)
  • A.J. Davis (9.4 mpg, 1.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg; transfer/UCF)
  • Rawane Ndiaye (3.2 mpg, 0.9 ppg, 1.0 rpg; career ended due to injury)
  • Quinton Chievous (3.6 mpg, 0.4 ppg, 0.8 rpg; transfer/Hampton)
Starting Five
  • PG Kevin Punter (6'4", 180 Jr., Bronx, NY); #4 JC SG and #22 overall JC
  • SG Robert Hubbs (6'6", 206 Soph., Newbern, TN)
  • SF Josh Richardson (6'6", 200 Sr., Edmond, OK)
  • PF Derek Reese (6'8", 220 Jr., Orlando, FL)
  • C Tariq Owens (6'10", 205 Fr., Odenton, MD); #39 PF and #180 overall
Top Reserves
  • G Armani Moore (6'5", 215 Jr., Kennesaw, GA)
  • G Ian Chiles (6'1", 200 Sr., Louisville, KY); transfer/IUPUI
  • G Detrick Mostella (6'3", 170 Fr., Decatur, AL); #26 SG and #86 overall
  • G Devon Baulkman (6'5", 200 Jr., Bainbridge, GA); JUCO transfer
Bench
  • F Jabari McGhee (6'8", 210 Fr., Albany, GA); #62 PF and #245 overall
  • F Willie Carmichael (6'8", 210 Fr., Apopka, FL); #86 PF and #334 overall
  • G Braxton Bonds (6'1", 170 Fr., Nashville, TN); #79 PG and #386 overall
  • F Dominic Woodson (6'10", 290 Soph., Austin, TX); transfer/Memphis

It's a rather pointless exercise to go over what the Vols did and didn't do well last year.  With only 28 percent of the minutes played last year returning, this is effectively a brand new team.  And over half the returning minutes were played by one player: Josh Richardson.  Richardson had a rather efficient year in averaging 10.3 ppg, but that was as maybe the Vols' third or fourth option.  Now he moves to being the first option almost by default, as Tennessee doesn't really have anyone else as experienced.

Which isn't to say that Tennessee doesn't have any talent on hand, and in fact, if sophomore Robert Hubbs lives up to his press clippings, he could conceivably supplant Richardson as the Vols' number one option.  Hubbs was a five-star recruit out of high school who struggled through a shoulder injury before undergoing shoulder surgery after 12 games.  The Vols also have Armani Moore and Derek Reese, reserves on last year's team who will be asked to step up their games, though Reese will likely play up front due to a lack of depth (more on that in a minute.)  Detrick Mostella also comes in as a four-star recruit; Mostella initially committed to Oklahoma State but had to go to prep school for a year and wound up at Tennessee.

But there isn't really a point guard in that bunch.  The only true point guard on the roster is Braxton Bonds, nephew of Barry Bonds, who originally signed with Liberty but decided to join the Vols as a walk-on.  Juco transfer Kevin Punter, who averaged 20.3 ppg at State Fair CC, will likely take over the point guard duties, but he's really better described as a combo guard.  Graduate transfer Ian Chiles can also play the point, but like Punter is more of a combo guard.  The Vols also have another juco transfer, Devon Baulkman, who followed Tyndall from Southern Miss to Tennessee, though how much and where he'll contribute is unknown.

If the situation at the point is bad, up front Tennessee has even bigger issues.  Reese, who's ideally suited for the three, will likely play the four or even the five because the Vols really don't have any better options.  They did catch a bit of a break when Dominic Woodson, a former top recruit, was ruled eligible to play immediately after transferring from Memphis; but Woodson basically ate his way out of the Memphis program and only averaged 2.5 ppg and 1.9 rpg in his year there.  Tariq Owens, Willie Carmichael, and Jabari McGhee were late signees who mostly drew interest from mid-majors; at least one or two of them will play out of necessity, but it's an open question whether these are players who can compete in the SEC.

Schedule

Non-Conference
11/3 Pikeville (exh.)
11/8 Lenoir-Rhyne (exh.)
11/14 vs. VCU
11/20 Texas Southern
11/27 vs. Santa Clara
11/28 Orlando Classic
11/30 Orlando Classic
12/6 Kansas State
12/14 Butler
12/17 at North Carolina State
12/19 Tennessee Tech
12/22 Mercer
12/27 Tennessee State
12/31 East Tennessee State

Conference home-and-home

Mississippi State, Arkansas, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, LSU

Conference home

Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, Kentucky

Conference road

Missouri, Georgia, Ole Miss, Florida

That doesn't really look like the non-conference schedule of a rebuilding team, does it?  Tennessee will face tough tests with VCU, Kansas State, Butler, and NC State on the schedule, and even mid-majors Mercer and ETSU are no slouches.  In the Orlando Classic, the Vols could potentially see Kansas and Michigan State or Marquette.  If things are not going well, this team could potentially enter SEC play with a .500 record.

And the conference schedule-makers didn't do the Vols too many favors, either, with Arkansas, LSU, and a likely improved South Carolina on the schedule twice, along with the obligatory home-and-home with Vanderbilt.  At least Mississippi State is on the schedule twice as well?

Outlook

What was a clear rebuilding year became a lot worse with the transfers of Davis and especially Thompson.  Davis would have given Tennessee at least some size on the front line and Thompson would have given the Vols a point guard.

Instead, Tyndall enters his first year with a few talented wing players, but virtually nothing inside and trying a natural shooting guard at the point.  The best case scenario for this team might be something like last year's Missouri team, albeit with less offense, with a few scoring wings but unable to stop anyone on defense.  As for the worst-case scenario?  Richardson struggles as the first option, Hubbs doesn't live up to his press clippings, and nobody else steps up to handle the scoring load; in that case, I would not be surprised if Tennessee finishes last in the SEC.

Splitting the difference, this is probably a team that struggles all year and boosts the attendance on Wednesday at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.  The good news for Tennessee is that Tyndall knows what he's doing and should get things turned around, but apparently Cuonzo Martin decided to ruin the 2014-15 season on his way out.