Year one of the Cuonzo Martin is over. It had some ups and down, but overall it was a good season that showed much improvement from the team throughout the year, despite the tough, late season ending. Tennessee has improved as a program, and expected to finish in the top four in the SEC rankings by the media, along with being in the NCAA tournament. We have five questions to answer for Tennessee basketball this year. I’m here to answer them for the “Unofficial Volnation 2012-2013 Basketball Preview”.
1. “Tennessee’s offense was very inconsistent last year. Will it improve?”
Tennessee’s offense was average last year, sixth in the SEC in points per 100 possessions. This year they should be better. This is year two of the motion offense. Much like a 3-4 defense in football, when you change to a motion offense, there are struggles because it’s a read and react offense. There aren’t a lot of sets play. It’s about what the defense gives you. UT had only one senior that contributed last year in Cameron Tatum. It was going to be a major work in progress with such a young team. The team (especially PG Trae Golden) has stated the team is much more comfortable in the offense. Also, the team has Jarnell Stokes for a full offseason. He’s going to really help down low and help open up the offense.
The key will be the perimeter shooting. The Vols shot 34% from three last year, seventh in the league. Last year, Skylar McBee was the only consistent shooter from the three last year. If Jordan McRae can step up his outside shooting and D’Montre Edwards can step in and provide consistency, it will really open things up. Last year, the spacing was not very good on offense. If Tennessee can shoot better, it will clear area for the Bruise Brothers (Stokes and Maymon) down low. I expect a better offense. It might not reap benefits from day one, but I believe by midseason you will see one of the better offenses in the SEC. The interesting thing to look at is if Cuonzo Martin will push the tempo more. There were games were UT didn’t mind pushing the pace, but kept a half-court game to keep the players energized and focused on defense. Tennessee has more depth this year, and has some good athletes. Trae Golden is a point guard that likes to push the pace, and I think Martin is going to give him a little bit more freedom in determining when to run or not.
2. “”Not a lot of big time recruits coming in rankings wise…any impact players?”
Yes. Jarnell Stokes. Jarnell is actually part of the 2012 class, but came in early for reasons already stated. But Jarnell has already been through the rigors of an SEC season and did very well, and should have a huge impact this season. There are two newcomers expected to play in the rotation this year.
Armani Moore is penciled in to be the backup point guard. Armani is an interesting case. He was at a small school in Georgia and didn’t get a lot of recognition. He then had a monster season and was really blowing up his senior year. Armani “Money” Moore (he likes being called Money) is a strong guard that can get into the lane and brings tough defense. His ball handling and play making are the biggest questions, which makes sense because he was a combo guard in high school. He also is a fantastic rebounder for his position, averaging almost ten a game his senior year.
D’Montre Edwards is a tough player, and will fill the Cam Tatum role as the stat stuffer. Edwards has a nice shot and can hit the three. He also has been called a nasty defender and should be able to handle bigger wing players, something Tennessee had problems with last year. Edwards also is a good rebounder and can grab offensive rebounds. D’Montre is fighting for a starting spot, but will see significant minutes throughout the year and will be relied on to provide consistency to a still relatively young team.
3. “What does the depth chart look like this year?”
It seems like ten players are going to play, and maybe eleven to start. It seems like the rotation is mostly set, with just the wings spots up for grabs in the starting lineup. Let’s start at point guard. It’s quite obvious who the starter is going to be and that will be Trae Golden. Trae is a very solid point guard that can shoot and pass the ball very well. He needs to improve his consistency on defense and improve his ball handling to become a more complete point guard, but should have another good season. Armani Moore will backup Golden. Moore is a question mark, because he wasn’t a true point guard in high school. He won’t have too big of a role, just to give Trae a breather so Trae doesn’t have to play 35 minutes on some nights. Moore will bring tough defense and be able to keep the offense going.
The wings right now are the biggest question mark. There are five players that will compete for playing time and seems like both starting spots aren’t decided. The shooting guard seems to be Skylar McBee. McBee can knock down the three, and plays tough gritty defense, but not much else he provides. Cuonzo Martin loves his hustle and that he brings 100% effort every game. Jordan McRae, at the moment, is the favorite for the starting three spot. Jordan is an incredible athlete, rangy, and can shoot the lights out. He also rebounds the ball well and can even make plays for others. Jordan’s problem is mental. He doesn’t bring consistent defense and has a low basketball IQ. Jordan has really gained strength and earned a good amount of praise from the staff. He thrived in the sixth man role last year and Coach Martin might try that again. Josh Richardson is fighting for a starting spot, but will play this year. He is the best defender on the team and has improved his jump shot. He can’t do much on the offensive end, but with his defense he will play. D’Montre Edwards brings toughness, defense, and shooting. Edwards could be the starting SF by SEC play. He doesn’t have much of an offensive game and is an unknown as a JUCO, but will play. The X-Factor is Quentin Cheivous. He’s a really tough player that can rebound and attacks the basket. His shot is questionable and is very raw, only in his fifth year playing organized basketball.
The posts are basically set up. Jeronne Maymon will be the four man. He is a gritty post player that can score around the basket and rebounds as well as anyone in the SEC. He struggles against taller defenders and doesn’t have anything outside ten feet, but he was the Vols’ most consistent player last year. Jarnell Stokes is expected to have a huge year. He did very well in SEC play in unusual circumstances and thrived when put in the starting lineup. He’s extremely talented on the offensive ends and has natural rebounding ability, but must improve his defense. Yemi Makanjoula shocked everyone last year. He is an excellent athlete and has shown a lot of natural ability. His rebounding was better than expected and he has the makings of a great shot blocker. His offensive game is terrible, but the Vols don’t need to do much expect hit putbacks. Kenny Hall has one more chance. Kenny is 6’10, long arms, explosive ability, but mentally hasn’t been there. He is Tennessee’s best shot blocker and rebounds well when he boxes out, but must improve his offensive game and keep his head on straight to have an impact this year.
4. “What does the schedule look like this year?”
It sets up nicely. UT plays in a good, but not overwhelming tournament in Puerto Rico and should be a good barometer of how good Tennessee is. The Vols have a big Friday night primetime ESPN game against Georgetown early and will be fun to watch early in the year. For the last time in the foreseeable future, UT will play Memphis in the regular season after Memphis’ decision to cancel the series. That game is in Knoxville. Tennessee also scheduled Xavier at home, and will have to face Virginia in Charlottesville. That will not be an easy game. A couple interesting mid-major games to watch will be Oakland. Greg Kampe has beaten Tennessee for two straight years and always has a tough team. The Vols also get Wichita State. Gregg Marshall and company went to the NCAA Tournament last year and won 27 games. This team can give UT fits.
The SEC schedule is different this year. Tennessee will play eighteen SEC games with the additions of the Texas A&M Aggies and the Missouri Tigers. Tennessee will play a home and home against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Alabama, and Ole Miss. There are no divisions this year so it will be strict standings, 1-14, to decide the SEC Tournament, with still playing the round robin type tournament idea. The SEC is better this year. Texas A&M, despite a bad year in 2011-2012, is a solid program, and Missouri was a top ten team last year for almost the entire year. The bottom of the SEC should also be better this year, making tougher games for the Vols.
5. “What are realistic and fair expectations for this year team?”
The Tennessee program is looking good. 19 wins was overachieving last year, and the Vols really came on strong in the SEC, finishing second in the SEC despite being predicted to finish second to last at SEC Media Days. Tennessee returns seven players with starting experience, and the bench should be better this year. The team defense will continue to be excellent, and year two of the motion offense should reap a more consistent offensive team. Jarnell Stokes will be a beast this year, and Trae Golden will improve. The question will be is if the wings can provide consistency. If so, Tennessee could have a monster year. Tennessee has a lot of potential, but still a young team. I think the expecations are simple. 21 regular season wins and an NCAA berth with a seed in the 5-6-7 range will be the standard for Tennessee this year. I think they eclipse that.