During the season, I hope to highlight some things of note from each game. These most likely won’t all be long posts, but we’ll see what happens.
Tennessee will be leaning on its two senior guards, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden, throughout the season with so many new (and young) faces on the team.
It’s fair to expect some poise and prowess from this duo, being the most seasoned and battle-tested players left from the team that won 31 games last year. The Vols didn’t get much of either against UNC Asheville. They combined for 27 points (Turner - 17, Bowden - 10) on 27 shots and had more turnovers (10) than assists (9). Turner also went 1-5 (*cringe*) from the free-throw line, while Bowden didn’t attempt any free throws and missed his one 3-point attempt of the evening.
Instead, those figures tell a tale of inefficiency and carelessness, neither of which this team can really afford. The good news: seven of those nine turnovers came in the first half, and as a team, Tennessee turned the ball over just five times in the second half after committing 12 during the game’s first 20 minutes.
There are going to be growing pains. This team will have to figure out how to win games in spite of itself on some nights, and the younger players will take their cue from Turner and Bowden. Those two will have to play cleaner, smarter basketball, or it’s going to be a long and disappointing year.
I don’t want to be all doom and gloom — it’s just one game, and it’s just the first game. Wrinkles will get ironed and kinks will get straightened.
The Young and the Rest-less.
Freshmen accounted for exactly zero minutes last year for Tennessee. ZERO MINUTES.
New year, new team, who dis?
Freshman guard Josiah James started and played 24 minutes, while Oliver Nkamhoua (OH-liv-ee-AY / KAHM-wuh) and Davonte Gaines combined for 25 minutes against the Bulldogs.
Before the season, I would have guessed that Gaines was heading directly for a red-shirt year based simply on his long and (very) lanky frame. But Gaines had one of the more impressive performances against UNC Asheville for any player, regardless of class.
D ️E ️B ️U ️T pic.twitter.com/W7m6fD8CPK— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) November 6, 2019
He went 4-7 from the field, hit his only 3-point attempt and added three rebounds (two offensive) an assist, a steal, zero turnovers and just one foul in just 10 minutes of action. There was no fear in the rise-up of his jumper, and he hit John Fulkerson with a pretty pass that led to an easy two points.
Nkamhoua was noticeably good, too. He tied for second on the team with seven rebounds and showed finesse and touch around the rim. The roof isn’t the ceiling for this young man. He’s talented.
Olivier Nkamhoua finishes the half strong! Vols sloppy though with 12 turnovers and lead UNCA at halftime, 36-28 @wvlt pic.twitter.com/WGfqIBcq7K— Rick Russo (@wvltrick) November 6, 2019
James, a five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American, had probably the worst debut of the three freshmen. He looked like maybe he was trying to do too much and overall just didn’t look very settled. That’s understandable for a freshman playing his first official game in college. He had just two points on 1-5 shooting and had seven combined fouls/ turnovers.
On the plus-side, he had six rebounds, two assists, one block and maybe most importantly, looked capable of manning the point guard position. He can bring the ball up and handle it against pressure. This sort of stat line will probably be more common than not for James early in his tenure. It’s going to take time for his scoring to catch up to the rest of his game, but he’s able to leave his mark in other ways.
The lineups are going to change as the season goes on, and Rick Barnes will hone in on what he likes and what he doesn’t. So these early-season minutes for the young’uns might get trimmed down — but not by much.
I don’t much care for surprises. It’s hard to be ready for surprises. That’s, like, the whole deal with them. You don’t see them coming, so you’re unprepared. And unprepared usually = bad.
But Yves Pons scoring 15 points on 6-8 shooting and hitting one of the two 3-pointers he attempted definitely falls into the “good surprise,” category. Terry already covered Pons and his first real game at a new position.
But, two quick (uhh, quick-ish) points: 1) Pons scored in double digits all of one time last year, and it kinda seems like any offense you get from him, albeit regular or irregular, will be happily accepted but not really expected.
2) That juice on offense was fantastic — 15 points on eight shots is about as efficient it gets — but his defensive performance looked like that of a guy who can really change a game and alter an opposing offense’s plan of attack.
Last night, Pons reminded me of former Vol Armani Moore. Moore was listed at 6-foot-5, but he was an explosive leaper and able to play taller than his listed height. Moore wasn’t especially gifted offensively, but he led the team in minutes played mostly because he was a shot-blocking menace (Just for the record, he was a good rebounder, too).
Armani Moore: ruthless. pic.twitter.com/FF9i8vWZNS— FOX Sports Knoxville (@FOXSportsKnox) January 9, 2016
Similar to Pons, Moore lacked the offensive skills for a guard and was a little... short... in the height department for a traditional post player. But his ability to block and alter shots, especially coming from the weak side like he did in the clip above, helped Moore carve out an integral role with the team. If Pons could replicate Moore’s shot-blocking numbers for the duration of the season, it would help neutralize the Vols’ lack of a true center.