Part Two of our weeklong preview of the upcoming Tennessee Basketball season, which tips off Friday, November 13. Part One - Last Year
If there was ever a season where the Vols could absorb the loss of two contributors in the six weeks before the season opener, this is it. Josh Tabb and Emmanuel Negedu may be out, but the Vols still have 12 names on the roster expected to make contributions. You can see how crowded the picture was before Negedu's cardiac incident and Tabb's withdrawal.
In the long run, Pearl is likely to go with a 10 or even 9 man rotation by season's end. But in the early going, you'll get a look at all of these guys:
Bobby Maze returns to put on for Tennessee in his senior season. The transfer stepped into a starting role immediately last season, and logged 25 minutes and 8 points per game. But he wasn't the natural PG fit that Pearl wanted, as Maze averaged only 3.2 assists - he had 11 assists in the season opener against UT-Chattanooga, but never got double figures again. Maze finished with a +2.02 assist/turnover ratio and shot only 31.9% from beyond the arc. The Vols have weapons everywhere and don't necessarily need Maze to score, but to distribute. Look for Maze also to be a key factor in reigniting Tennessee's press on defense.
This year's transfer is Melvin Goins, following in Maze's footsteps. Goins is only 5'11" but goes 195 lbs, and could be a more physical presence at the guard spot. Reports out of practice had him struggling with his shooting touch early, and he'll need to adjust quickly to the Vols' up-tempo style if he's going to be productive as Maze's backup.
The player the Vols need the greatest improvement from is Scotty Hopson, the McDonald's All-American who will enter his sophomore season. Hopson showed flashes of his potential last season - 16 points against Gonzaga in Orlando, 19 against South Carolina, 20 against the Gators and 21 against Mississippi State - but ultimately averaged only 9.2 points per game. And Hopson wasn't the shooter the Vols needed at times last season, hitting 35.7% from three. To be fair to Hopson, Vol fans were spoiled by the 40+ percentage numbers of Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith. But this season, Hopson has added around fifteen pounds and worked on his shooting touch, hoping for less arc and more net. If Hopson can make the leap from a solid contributor to consistent scorer, look out.
While it's a dangerous thing to call him a perimeter player after his 3 for 24 performance from beyond the arc last year, JP Prince returns for his senior season as one of the most efficient players in the conference. Prince averaged 10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block per game last season. Prince is capable of scoring in spurts if the Vols need that - he had 20 in the division-clinching win at South Carolina last year - but is most dangerous along the baseline as defenses are drawn towards the Vols other playmakers, and Prince was often the beneficiary. Prince is a complete player who can go a long way towards helping the Vols get where they want to go.
Junior Cameron Tatum, who the Vols will need to play a huge role in 2010-11, is already pushing for more playing time after averaging 7.6 PPG last year. Tatum is another perimeter player the Vols are hoping has a more successful year shooting the three - last year Tatum was good for only 32.1% from deep. But Tatum did impress with a greater ability in getting to the hole, and is another guard the Vols will need to be quick and aggressive on the press.
And lest we forget, Swiperboy Renaldo Woolridge also plays basketball, good for 2.6 points in 8.8 minutes per game last season. Woolridge is one who lost playing time as the Vols decreased their rotation late in the season last year, but is back with a bigger frame and an equal chance to contribute.
And then there's Skylar McBee. The walk-on gunner from Rutledge is reportedly working his way into the rotation with his ability to hit the three ball, which as we've noted with all of these guys was an ability that was sorely lacking last season. His defensive abilities are yet to be seen, but if he can knock down shots, he could add a key component to a Tennessee offense that still averaged 78.4 points per game while shooting only 31.5% from three.
It's no stretch to say that the Vols have one of the best post combos in the country. That starts with Tyler Smith, who may also see some work at the 3 this season. Smith turned down NBA and European dollars to stay for his senior season in Knoxville, where he hopes to put the finishing touches on not only his game, but a championship run. Smith averaged 17 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists per contest last season, picking up the first triple-double in school history along the way. He increased his scoring output 2.5 points per game from the 2007-08 season, and scored in double figures in all but two of Tennessee's games. He also dropped a season-high 30 on Vanderbilt. Smith joins Prince as the most complete player on the team, and is on the Naismith Award watch list to open this season.
Tyler is great, but there's been no more entertaining personality on the team in the last four years than Wayne Chism, who is back for one last season. Chism scored 14 points and grabbed 8 boards per game last year, leading the team by far in the latter category. Chism posted six double-doubles last season, including a 26-11 in the win over Marquette and a 15-19 in the overtime loss to Gonzaga. And of course...the big guy can shoot the three. We're going to miss this guy when he's gone.
Back in a supporting role for another year before he'll be asked to take charge in the post next season, Brian Williams will spell Chism, and maybe this year you won't have to hear weight loss stories every time he comes in. Williams is currently listed at 278 lbs - still big enough to take care of business - and gave the Vols 5 points and 6 rebounds off the bench last year.
The lone freshman on scholarship is Kenny Hall, a 6'8" post player from Stone Mountain, GA. The Vols don't need any miracles from him this season (barring injury), but with the loss of Tyler and Wayne after this season, Hall projects to be relied on heavily next season. He should get a few minutes in the post rotation, and we'll see what he's got.
Rounding out the 12 man group expected to fight for playing time is Steven Pearl, now in his junior season. The coach's son doesn't do much offensively, but plays tough and plays hard on the inside defensively, and was good last season in short spurts to give someone else a rest. We'll see how his dad chooses to use him this year.