Not to say I was right or anything about Kyle Alexander being the key to the Vols’ postseason success - but I was.
Alexander’s injury against Loyola-Chicago may not have been the entire reason the Vols lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but it was definitely the biggest reason. Without Alexander, the Vols had trouble guarding the post against freshman Cameron Krutwig and who knows if Alexander could’ve affected the game-winning shot by Clayton Cluster.
But that’s in the past and it’s time to move forward.
So who will be key in making sure that Tennessee takes the next step in 2018?
We all know that the Vols have been hyped up in the preseason due to their 2017 success and the fact that they only lost one player in James Daniel III. They have been ranked as high as fourth in some preseason polls.
Obviously, Rick Barnes will rely on Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams to continue to be the leaders and playmakers that they are, but there are two more players that you can bet will factor into Tennessee’s development into a top-five program.
Both Jordan Bone and Yves Pons are absolutely essential to the Vols’ development in 2018. Each player can bring a different dynamic to Tennessee, whether it be a scoring threat from the point in Bone, or an all-around presence in Pons.
Bone is the more critical of the two as he enters his third year with the program. He has flashed incredible ability over his first two years, but has yet to put it all together.
Efficient as both a scorer and at creating opportunities for teammates, Bone had eight games where he recorded five or more assists - he turned the ball over just nine times total during that span - and the Vols went 5-3 in those games. He had 10 double-digit scoring games and when he recorded five assists and at least 10 points, the Vols averaged 80 ppg.
He ranked eighth in the SEC in apg despite averaging significantly less playing time than those around him in the top 10. He also upped his stats from his freshman year as well as his playing time by an average of over four minutes per game.
What can he do to elevate his game in 2018? Bone already possesses the second-highest assist/turnover ratio in the SEC at 2.77 per game, so that’s already taken care of. If he can gets his per game average up from 7.3 ppg to around 10 ppg, then that would help the Vols tremendously.
But he isn’t the only key to Tennessee taking the next step. The next man up in that department is Yves Pons, the young man from Fuveau, France.
This may come as a surprise to many, but Pons’ development is critical for the Vols if they want to take the next step. Pons is a bit smaller than you would like at 6-foot-5, 205 pounds but his athleticism is off the charts - enough to the point where is he already on the NBA’s radar.
Head coach Rick Barnes has been on the record stating that Pons has had the best spring out of his fellow Volunteers and has been working his tail off in the gym.
“He probably had the best spring – he did,” Barnes said on the Atlanta stop of the Big Orange Caravan. “I don’t think there’s any question he took more time in the practice facility more than anybody.” - Barnes, via knoxnews.com
If Pons can develop into a player who sees around 10 mpg, that would be beneficial to Tennessee because it would allow them to rest Williams and Schofield more and the Vols wouldn’t have to depend on them to carry the team as much.
Pons could come in with Derrick Walker and the Vols would have major depth in the frontcourt, as well as scoring ability.
Patience is the key with Pons. Last season was his first ever playing American basketball, so it’s natural that it may take longer for him to develop. He has all the tools, however, and the right coach who will get the most out of him.
If both players can hit their stride at the right time then Tennessee will be a force to deal with come next March.