We’re in an uncertain time for Tennessee basketball. The Vols could be a national contender once again if Jordan Bone and Grant Williams come back. They could also fall into rebuild mode if both bold. Regardless of what happens, Tennessee is going to be relying on some new faces to contribute next year. Here’s a few names that have to step up over the offseason.
The rising senior out of Knoxville has put together a nice career at Tennessee, blossoming into a legitimate scoring option on a team with a loaded (and crowded) offense. Bowden averaged ten points per game this season, spending most of the year playing as the Vols’ sixth man.
The thing that has plagued Bowden over the span of his career has been consistency. Once again this year, that was on display.
There were times where Bowden looked like the legitimate third scoring option for Tennessee. His run in the middle of the second half against Florida steered Tennessee clear of an upset on the road. His back to back 20 point performances against Arkansas and Missouri offered tantalizing looks at what Bowden could be. Even in the final game of the season, Bowden found his confidence and his stroke, pouring in 16 points and shooting 4-6 from three-point range.
But then, you’ve got to address the lows. In a weird way, Tennessee went as Jordan Bowden went. Without his scoring off the bench, the Vols fell into a slump in the middle of SEC play. Against Kentucky (at Rupp), Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and LSU, Bowden scored a grand total of 15 points. This coming after him settling into a groove of around 15 points per game early in SEC play.
With Admiral Schofield now gone, Tennessee has to replace some scoring. That’s going to fall on Jordan Bowdan and Josiah James. As a senior, Bowden has a chance to finally be a lead scorer for Tennessee. He’s proven capable, but he’s yet to prove consistent. That has to change.
Post depth — whoever that ends up being
Regardless of what Grant Williams decides to do over the next month, Tennessee is going to have to find a way to replace Kyle Alexander in the post. The Vols have some big bodies, but none are really proven to this point.
Interestingly, John Fulkerson is the most proven. He may end up being a starter next season for Tennessee, but Barnes is going to have to figure out who is the next big coming off of the bench. Derrick Walker could be that guy, even though he’s struggled to crack the rotation in his first two seasons in Knoxville.
Walker’s numbers and minutes actually went down this season with Fulkerson putting in a fully healthy season. We still really don’t know what Tennessee has in the 6-8, 236 pound rising junior at this point.
That fact brings us to D.J. Burns, who took a redshirt season for Tennessee this year. Burns brings legit size to the table, listed at 6-9, 272 pounds. Barnes and the staff have likely been working to slim him down a bit.
My question is this — how close will Burns be to Walker on the totem pole? Burns just missed on being a top 100 prospect in the 2018 class, so I’m interested to see what he brings to the table from the start.
The other factor here is Zach Kent, who can stretch out the floor a bit a shoot it. The 6-11 rising redshirt sophomore failed to find the floor once again this season, but should absolutely be a factor if Williams does leave for the NBA.
There’s an opportunity here for Walker, Burns and even Kent. We’ll see if Tennessee entertains adding a grad-transfer to the mix, but I’m fascinated to see how the pecking order shakes out.
There was a time where I thought Pons would simply be plugged into Admiral Schofield’s position next season and Tennessee would be fine. Pons was inserted into the starting lineup in December for Jordan Bowden and each guy really responded. You didn’t really see the scoring from Pons, but he did some nice things defensively and on the boards.
But things fell apart quickly. Once SEC play began, Pons vanished from the box score. Eventually he was replaced by Lamonte Turner in the starting five. Suddenly Pons was struggling to even find minutes.
His development has been disappointing to this point. He oozes athleticism, but you just don’t see a ton refined skill yet. That’s something that’s going to have to change. Pons is set to be a key piece off the bench along with Jalen Johnson. Tennessee doesn’t need him to be a 15 point per game scorer, but they do need his defense and athletic ability on the floor off the bench.
Pons has to regain that confidence that he found in December — that’s a guy that could really make a difference on this team next year.