The Tennessee basketball program is coming off one of the best two year stretches in school history. The Vols combined for a 57-15 record the past two seasons including a 2018 SEC Championship and a school best 31-6 record in 2019.
Things will look different on the court for the Vols this season as 2019 starters Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander have all moved on to the NBA.
Here are three questions facing Tennessee as practice officially starts today:
Who’s this Uroš Plavšić guy?
Heading into the 2019-20 season, one of Tennessee’s most important players is one most media and fans haven’t watched.
Uroš Plavšić was born and raised in Ivanjica, Serbia, before moving to Chattanooga in high school playing at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy. Plavšić, a 7’0, 240 pound forward, wasn’t a big recruit out of high school due to his limited basketball experience in America.
Plavšić followed one of his high school coaches, a fellow eastern European, to Arizona State out of Hamilton Heights. Plavšić redshirted as a freshman and after his coach was fired as an assistant after one year with the Sun Devils, Plavšić decided to transfer.
Tennessee was in dire need of big men this offseason after the departures of Williams and Alexander to the NBA in addition to the transfers of Derrick Walker and D.J. Burns.
Plavšić landing in Knoxville was a big coup for Rick Barnes in company giving the Vols a legitimate seven-footer, but questions remain about the big man.
First, Plavšić hasn’t been cleared by the NCAA to play, and while Tennessee is optimistic about him getting cleared it’s hard to be certain with anything about the NCAA.
Secondly, due to him redshirting his freshman season in Tempe and lack of play on the AAU circuit, very few people have seen Plavšić play and know what he brings to the table.
What is definite is that the Vols need Plavšić eligible and ready to contribute right away if they want to compete for an SEC championship.
Who claims the fifth starting spot?
As of September 24th, I feel confident in saying that Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner, Josiah James and Uroš Plavšić (if eligible) will start.
The question becomes who will claim the last spot and start at the four.
John Fulkerson would be the safe pick. The Kingsport, Tennessee, native was a fixture in the Vols’ rotation last year, but his ceiling isn’t particularly high and there are questions on whether he is physical enough to hold up against the physicality of upper level SEC front lines.
Freshman Olivier Nkamhoua, a Finnish native who played high school ball in Maryland, could come in and grab that fifth starting spot.
Nkamhou, a 6’8 forward, is another guy whose physicality could be questioned, but his athleticism, jump shot and motor have received good reviews in his short time in Knoxville.
With the Vols’ strength being in their backcourt I’d expect Tennessee to play a fast tempo this season and Nkamhou could fit into the four spot well.
Who steps up to provide depth?
One of the 2018-19 Tennessee basketball team’s few downfalls was a lack of productive depth. Derrick Walker, Jalen Johnson and Yves Pons all played sparingly throughout the regular season, but by tournament time the Vols were rolling with a seven-man rotation.
Four of those seven players are now in the NBA and Rick Barnes had a massive overhaul of the roster in the offseason as six new players joined the program.
The need for depth starts with Pons and Johnson who, unlike Walker, remain in the program. Both have proven to be great athletes but need to complete their games.
Johnson is a solid offensive player with a good shot, but his struggles on defense kept him from maintaining the trust of Rick Barnes last season.
Pons flashed early in his sophomore season but faded down the stretch struggling to find an offensive rhythm.
Neither will be relied on as go-to players, but both need to be more consistent and provide quality minutes off the bench.
Can freshmen Drew Pember and Davontae Gaines come in right away and provide minutes for the Vols? Both are guys that could use time in the weight room to physically develop but would be huge additions if they can contribute right away.
Zach Kent hasn’t found the floor much in his first two years in Knoxville, but with the previously mentioned lack of depth inside the Vols, they need the Magnolia, Delaware, native to be ready to play this season.