Birmingham, Alabama: Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes and seniors Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner traveled to the Yellow Hammer state Wednesday for the annual SEC Basketball Media Days.
Tennessee, who was picked fifth by the media, has plenty of new faces, and to the college basketball world the Vols appear prime for a rebuild after winning 57 games the last two seasons.
However, even though Tennessee feels like another SEC title chase is well within reach they may have to win in a new way.
Gone are Grant Williams, Admiral Scofield, and Kyle Alexander. Three forwards who Tennessee ran its offense through the past two seasons.
What is left is a pair of guards who averaged over 10 points a game last season despite often being Tennessee’s fourth or fifth scoring options.
Add into the mix the addition of five-star combo guard Josiah-Jordan James and you have a team that will find the majority of its offensive production from the backcourt.
“I don’t think there’s any question that in the last (minutes) where the ball was going to go,” Barnes said. “At this point in time we will be playing through our guards more than we play through our post guys… We’re going to play through our guards in late game situations.”
Despite losing nearly 70% of their scoring from a year ago, the Vols can still find solace in the amount of big shots the pair of seniors in their backcourt have made.
“You got guys like me and Lamonte who have been in those moments and have made big shots,” Bowden said on who the Vols will go to in late game situations.
Tennessee’s defense has helped drive back-to-back successful seasons allowing just 67 points per game during the 2017-18 season and 69 points per game last season.
Additionally, the 40.1 shooting percentage Tennessee had last year was second best in the league, and there is little reason to believe the Vols can’t repeat that success this season.
Bowden and Turner were Tennessee’s best perimeter defenders a year ago and while the anchor of the defense, Kyle Alexander, is gone, the addition of 7-footer Uroš Plavšic should help keep the Vols defense solid in the interior.
“We can be one of the best in the SEC,” Bowden said. “Just continue to work at it in practice, continue the details, the small details in it, but you have to want to play defense to be in this league. … Defense wins games.”
The biggest question mark for Tennessee on the defensive end will be how the six newcomers adjust to the new stage and whether they can satisfy Barnes’ high expectations.
“Some guys are further along than others, but it’s our job as coaches to teach them and get them up to speed,” Barnes said. “I’ve always thought the best motivation for really defense and offense is when you start playing games, and when guys don’t do what they’re supposed to do they get to sit and watch. That’s what will happen with some of these younger guys too.”
While the rest of the college basketball world may not be expecting another big season from Tennessee, the Vols believe they have a chance to turn heads and compete for another SEC title.