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Maui Invitational Preview: Vols Look to Learn More About Their Freshmen

Tennessee opens the Maui Invitational against Wisconsin before facing Oregon or Georgetown on Tuesday.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational Press Conference
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

In two games we’ve seen two very different performances from Tennessee’s offense. Against Chattanooga the Vols were 1 of 16 from the three point line and had just four assists to 18 turnovers as the Mocs scored an 82-69 victory in Thompson-Boling Arena. Then against Appalachian State the Vols shot 8 of 19 from the arc (42.1%) and had 26 assists on 35 made baskets, trimming the turnovers to a dozen in scoring 103 points. A late flurry turned what was a 92-69 lead with 6:30 to play into a 103-94 victory, but there was still a lot to like about Tennessee’s performance.

Will we find something to like in Maui? College basketball’s premier preseason tournament sends the Vols against #9 Wisconsin in the opener today at 2:30 PM ET (ESPN2). The Badgers dethroned undefeated Kentucky in the Final Four two years ago before losing to Duke in the title game, then made their way to the Sweet 16 as a seven seed last year. Greg Gard took over for Bo Ryan in the middle of last season and is back for more in year two, and much like Chattanooga this team brings everyone back. The top five contributors all return, including preseason Big Ten player of the year Nigel Hayes. The 6’8” forward joins guards Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter and forward Vitto Brown as senior starters, with double-double threat Ethan Happ rounding out the lineup as a sophomore.

The Badgers have already run into trouble: a 79-67 loss at #22 Creighton. That’s a theme for this half of the bracket in Maui: preseason #4 Oregon lost 66-49 at Baylor, and Georgetown is 1-2 with a pair of home losses to Maryland by one and Arkansas State by six. The Vols will get one of those two tomorrow.

Lose twice in this thing and you’ll get Chaminade, which is what happened to the Vols the last time we were in Maui in Cuonzo Martin’s first year after competitive loss to Duke and a double overtime setback against Memphis. The goal here, other than a generic “get better” with valuable minutes against good teams for a young roster, would be to steal a win against a team like Georgetown. Doing so would give the Vols another meaningful game against North Carolina, Oklahoma State, or UConn from the other side of the bracket.

What’s been most interesting about Tennessee thus far has been the distribution of minutes. Eleven different Vols have played in the first two games, with Robert Hubbs leading the way averaging 29.5 minutes. But two other returning contributors have been much further down the list: Admiral Schofield has averaged just 13.5 minutes, Detrick Mostella just 11.5. Jordan Bone has led the freshman brigade with 14.5 points and 4.5 assists per game, with redshirt freshman Lamonte Turner joining Hubbs at 13.5 points per game so far. Grant Williams is also playing 20+ minutes so far, while Kyle Alexander’s maturation process is well underway after a 13-7 against App State.

We’ll have a much fuller idea about this roster at the end of this week. The learning curve is steep, but may provide some early separation within Tennessee’s roster regardless of the outcome. There’s little to lose and much to learn today against Wisconsin - we’ll see where and how Rick Barnes and this team can go from there.