Men's Basketball vs Eastern Kentucky

The bench celebrates their teammates drawing a charge during game against Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 28, 2018 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Last season, Tennessee’s eleventh game of the year came against Wake Forest. This year, the Vols face the Demon Deacons in their eleventh game once again.

No. 3 Tennessee is off to a 9-1 start in the opening ten games this season, so how does that compare to the Vols’ 8-2 beginning to last year’s season? The comparison is adequate, because Tennessee faced two top 10 teams and a top 25 team to open the 2017-18 season, and it has played two top five teams to open the 2018-19 campaign.

Here’s a look at what the stats suggest:

Bone showing vast improvement

One of the biggest takeaways from the statistical deep-dive is junior point guard Jordan Bone’s up-tick in production.

Last season, Bone played 22.2 minutes per game during the first 10 games, as he shared time with James Daniel and Lamonte Turner. He averaged just 7.0 points per game, while dishing out 3.4 assists per game and turning the ball over 1.6 times per game.

This year, Daniel is gone and Turner has been sidelined for the majority of the season with an injury.

Bone has taken over by playing 32.2 minutes per game, while nearly doubling his offensive output with 13.7 points per game. He is also averaging 6.3 assists per game and is only turning the ball over 2.2 times per contest, even with the increase in minutes and pressure from head coach Rick Barnes.

“I feel like I am in a lot more control,” Bone said. “It goes along with being comfortable out there and understanding what we are doing.”

Defense is down, but not by much

After Tennessee’s 83-70 win against Samford on Wednesday night, Bone adamantly suggested that his team’s defense needed to improve.

“We still haven’t been that defensive team that we were last year,” Bone said. “We are trying to get back to that. We have guys that can make plays on offense, so we are not so worried about that.”

The Vols allowed 66.4 points per game to open the 2017-18 season, allowing opponents to shoot 43.5 percent from the floor. This year, Tennessee is giving up 68.0 points per game and teams are shooting 39.1 percent.

Statistically, the defense is holding opponents to a lesser shooting percentage, but the major difference is with turnovers. The Vols forced 16.9 turnovers per game through 10 games last year, but they are only forcing 13.9 per game so far this season.

Teams are averaging 12.0 assists per game this year, compared to 11.6 per game in the first 10 games from last season.

Schofield’s work paying off

Senior forward Admiral Schofield has been lauded for showing up to practice early, being the last one to leave practice and leading the Tennessee team on and off the court.

His hard work is evident thus far.

Last year, Schofield played an average of 23.9 minutes per game through the first 10 games, while scoring 11.7 points per game and averaging 5.1 rebounds. He’s playing almost 10 more minutes per game this season (33.0 mpg), scoring 19.0 points per game and pulling down 6.6 rebounds per game.

“I do think Admiral has been a mainstay for us over these last couple weeks,” Barnes said. “He’s done a lot, he really has, to keep us together.”

Williams on pace for another SEC Player of the Year award

Junior forward Grant Williams is the reigning SEC Player of the Year, and if his first 10 games are a sign of things to come, he’s on pace to win the award again.

Last season, Williams averaged 27.8 minutes per game through 10 games, and he has been playing 31.3 minutes this season. His scoring is up from last year as well, going from 15.8 points per game to 19.4.

Barnes has harped on Williams for a lack of production on the boards, but he is actually averaging more rebounds per game through the opening stages of this season. He has grabbed 8.3 boards per game so far, while he only averaged 7.0 through the first 10 games last year.

Williams and Schofield are first and second in the SEC in scoring per game this season.

Tennessee faces Wake Forest on Saturday at noon ET at Thompson-Boling Arena and will be televised on ESPN2.

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