Tennessee has played just two games along with an exhibition matchup, but so far so good. Rick Barnes’ new look roster is aggressive and balanced, playing through former five-star point guard prospect Kennedy Chandler.
The Volunteers put it on ETSU on Sunday, pulling away in the middle of the first half and never looking back. Desmond Oliver, the ETSU coach who spent the last six seasons with Barnes in Knoxville, is in a unique position to evaluate what he saw on Sunday.
“Tennessee is pretty good,” Oliver said after the game. “They’re probably the best team I have seen are since that Grant Williams and Schofield team that won 31 games.”
Oliver, who had a hand in building this current team, came away the most impressed with Chandler. The Tennessee point guard once again had his foot on the gas, scoring 16 points on 6-9 shooting before Barnes decided he had seen enough. He was 2-3 from three-point range, adding five rebounds and six assists in 26 minutes.
“Kennedy Chandler is the best point guard I have seen in this building,” Oliver said. “Jordan Bone was pretty good. We had some good ones. Lamonte Turner was pretty good two years ago. I have not seen anything like that.”
And then he dropped a pretty big comparison.
“He reminds me of a young Kyrie Irving,” Oliver continued. “I felt like his matchup, there was no one on the court that could slow him down. Shot-making, pace of play, hang time in the lane, taking contact. And I started watching him dribble through people and drop dimes and make threes, I’m sitting there saying, ‘Wow, name a point guard in America who is better than him.’”
Maybe more impressive than the early production is just the overall mentality of Chandler. Tennessee really didn’t have anyone to consistently press the attack last season, and we saw that eventually end the Vols’ season as they sputtered down the stretch. It’s early, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be an issue with Chandler, who has already been given the keys to the car by Rick Barnes.
We’re going to find out exactly what Tennessee has in Chandler this weekend, when the bright lights come on in Connecticut at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. The Vols will head north to face No. 4 Villanova on Saturday, and then play either North Carolina or Purdue.
It’s an opportunity for Chandler to introduce himself to the country, while he tries to pick up a couple of big-time wins for Tennessee that would look pretty good come March.