SEC Season Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

Posted by David Changas on November 13th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Tennessee.

Tennessee Volunteers

Strengths. This is a team that returns four players and only one starter from last year’s Sweet Sixteen run. That roster upheaval was created when head coach Cuonzo Martin left in mid-April for California. He was replaced by Southern Mississippi head coach Donnie Tyndall, and before Tyndall coaches his first game in Knoxville, he has already landed on the hot seat for alleged improprieties that occurred at his former school. The Volunteers will need to set those issues aside and focus on what they can control this season. Their clear leader is Josh Richardson, a senior forward who came on strong during the NCAA Tournament run, averaging 19.3 PPG in four games after averaging just under 10 PPG in the regular season. Richardson had always been a defensive specialist, so his surprising offensive output encourages the team that the trend could carry over into this season. The senior is surrounded by good athletes, but the group has spent so little time playing together that it will take time for the team to develop any real chemistry.

Josh Richardson gives Tennessee a glimmer of hope. (Nooga.com/Billy Weeks)

Josh Richardson’s return gives Tennessee a glimmer of hope. (Nooga.com/Billy Weeks)

Weaknesses. There are many potential downfalls with these Volunteers, but the biggest may be at the point guard position. This is evidenced by Tyndall’s decision to play Richardson there. Ian Chiles, a senior transfer from IUPUI, was thought to be the solution when he joined the team, but he appears to be struggling to adapt. Kevin Punter, a talented junior college transfer who should provide some scoring punch, does not appear to be well-suited for the position either. Tyndall will need Richardson to capably handle the quarterbacking duties, and his team will need to force turnovers from the press to overcome this deficiency. In addition to the glaring issue at the point, the Volunteers appear to be very thin, both literally and figuratively, on the inside. Memphis transfer Dominic Woodson is eligible to play immediately, but even though he was a big disappointment with the Tigers, he provides some much-needed bulk in the paint. Still, despite the fact that he appears to have responded well to Tyndall’s coaching, he does not appear ready to play big minutes, and freshmen Willie Carmichael, who originally signed with Southern Miss, and Tariq Owens, who was set to go to Ohio, will need to overachieve.

Toughest Non-Conference Test. Things are tough right out of the box for Tennessee, as the Vols face VCU on opening night at the Naval Academy in the Veterans Classic. This will be a very difficult challenge for the team from the outset, but they will get a good idea of what they are made of very quickly. Tennessee may also get a shot at Kansas in the Orlando Classic during Thanksgiving weekend, but it will need to first get past opening round opponent Santa Clara for that to happen. Pre-conference games in Knoxville against Butler and Kansas State along with a trip to Raleigh to play North Carolina State show that Tyndall is not afraid to follow the conference’s edict to schedule up.

Toughest Conference Stretch. The Volunteers are lucky enough to draw Kentucky and Florida only once, but over a six-game stretch from mid-February to early March they have home games against the Wildcats and LSU, road contests at Ole Miss and Florida, as well as a return trip to Baton Rouge. With so many freshman on the roster, Tyndall must hope that they will not have hit the wall by the time they reach that portion of the schedule.

Projected Starters:

  • PG Josh Richardson (6’6″)
  • SG Kevin Punter (6’4″)
  • SG Robert Hubbs (6’6″)
  • PF Derrick Reese (6’8″)
  • Dominic Woodson (6’10”)

This lineup will likely be fluid and could very easily change from game to game. Only Richardson and Reese played any minutes of consequence last season, as Hubbs, a former five-star recruit, was injured early and saw no action after Christmas. Thus far, the returns on Hubbs have not been overly encouraging, and it remains to be seen whether he can contribute significantly in a Tennessee uniform. Reese’s inclusion in the lineup is a bit of a surprise, but he has exceeded expectations thus far.

Projected Bench:

  • PG Ian Chiles (6’1″)
  • SG Detrick Mostella (6’3″)
  • SG Devon Baulkman (6’5″)
  • Armani Moore (6’5″)
  • PF Willie Carmichael (6’8″)

Moore is the only other returning scholarship player from last year’s team, and the athletic junior plays bigger than his size. Mostella, a former top-50 recruit, is an intriguing piece, and could turn out to be a strong contributor down the road. The rest of the lineup remains a bit of a mystery, so early-season struggles appear to be inevitable.

Turmoil surrounds Donnie Tyndall before he coaches his first game at Tennessee. (abcnews.com)

Turmoil surrounds Donnie Tyndall before he coaches his first game at Tennessee. (abcnews.com)

If Everything Goes Right … Tyndall’s squad was picked by the media to finish 13th in the league, and Tyndall has indicated he will be surprised if that happens. Realistically it shouldn’t, even though there is so much uncertainty about this team. There are numerous athletes on the roster and — Tyndall’s somewhat questionable history aside — he has a track record of success, winning 56 games in two seasons at Southern Miss, and 65 percent of his games as a head coach. He turned the Morehead State program around before leaving for Hattiesburg, and a middle-of-the-pack finish in the SEC is not out of the question for this team.

If Nothing Goes Right … Given Tyndall’s NCAA situation, there is no certainty that he will be around for the entire season despite his assurance that things will turn out alright. Even if he does stick, a bit of a black cloud is hanging over the program, which is not far removed from the Bruce Pearl saga that essentially ruined the 2010-11 season. If Tennessee struggles in the early going, the idea that things could completely fall apart is certainly not far-fetched.

David Changas (136 Posts)


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