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As preseason polls were released last week, the Tennessee Volunteers were snubbed in the AP Top 25 and the USA Today Coaches Poll. Not sure what the voters were looking for, but these Vols look like one of the country’s top teams to me. Coach Cuonzo Martin is seeking his first NCAA Tournament bid at Tennessee and this year he has all the ingredients to make that run. The Vols have bigs, wings, depth, experience, and coaching. There are obstacles to overcome, but I see Tennessee as a potential top 15 team and in the Big Dance.
Credit: Tennessee Athletics
Why Tennessee Will Make the NCAA Tournament
Frontcourt Play-Jarnell Stokes (right) returns and Jeronne Maymon is back after a medical redshirt season. Not many other teams in the country have two bruisers like these guys in the paint. Both are All-SEC caliber bigs.
Scoring from the Wing-Jordan McRae can score from anywhere on the floor and was many voters’ choice for SEC Player of the Year last season. Incoming freshman Robert Hubbs may be the least hyped 5-Star recruit in the country. Don’t sleep on Josh Richardson, who started all 33 games last year and quietly average 8 ppg.
Defense-Always the hallmark of a Cuonzo Martin team, this Vols defense is led by Richardson on the perimeter. The return of Maymon makes them an even better rebounding team. Tennessee will be the most physical team in the SEC, and scoring against them in the halfcourt will be a grind.
Why Tennessee Won’t Make the NCAA Tournament
Outside Shooting-Last season the Vols ranked near the bottom of the SEC in 3-pt. shooting. Memphis transfer Antonio Barton is a career 40% 3-pt. shooter. Adding him to the roster in place of Trae Golden (only 30% in 2012-13) will help.
Chemistry-There is no reason to think this will be a huge concern, but the addition of Barton and Maymon’s return, combined with McRae’s and Stokes’ potential curiosity over their NBA draft stock are all factors that could affect the Vols’ locker room.
Injury-Specifically, Maymon’s knee is a concern. He missed all of 2012-13 with an injury and many around the league speculate whether he is 100%. If he goes down, that leaves Stokes exposed defensively, and there is a man-sized hole on the Vols’ frontline.
Tennessee has plenty of chances to prove what it is made of early this season. The non-conference schedule is highlighted by a trip to the Bahamas and a potential matchup with Kansas. A road game at Wichita State and a home game vs. NC State are also chances to shine. Early in SEC play, the Vols travel to Rupp Arena to take on the Kentucky (January 18).
SEC rivals Kentucky (1) and Florida (10) were both ranked in the AP Preseason Top 25, and rightfully so. This Tennessee team will show it belongs there as well, and come March the Vols will go dancing for the first time in the Cuonzo Martin era.
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