Rick Barnes feels his team could’ve made the NCAA Tournament last season, if not for late-season injuries.
Leading scorer Robert Hubbs III battled a knee injury in conference play. He still earned the more minutes than any other player, but his field goal percentage dropped nine points in the final month.
The season before, Kevin Punter scored 22 points each game before missing the final eight with an injury. The team dropped five games without him.
“If you go back the past two years, we’ve been in a pretty good position at the end of the year,” Barnes said last week. “I think for the first time we can survive some injuries, whether it’s early, late or somewhere in between.”
New addition James Daniel III led the country in scoring two seasons ago with 27.1 points per game at Howard University. He, transfer Chris Darrington and the Vols’ backcourt try to fill the 13.7 points and more than 31 minutes per game voided by Hubbs, one of two graduated players.
The Vols return Grant Williams (12.6 ppg) and Admiral Schofield (8.2 ppg) to makeup for the loss.
“Even though we’re a relatively young roster, we’ve got a lot of guys who have got experience. Just not experienced winning at the level we want to win at,” said Associate Head Coach Rob Lanier.
For the upcoming season, the expected level of winning is an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since 2014.
Tennessee also picks up backcourt depth in a roundabout way – adding more size around the hoop.
Schofield, six foot five inches, played on the block at times for Tennessee last season. With more natural forwards on the roster, he’s practicing away from the basket at, the wing.
“The makeup of our team two years ago and last year made it necessary for Admiral to help us along the front line,” said Lanier. “We’re trying to do stuff offensively more conducive for him to be successful in that particular role because we need him on the floor.”
Yves Pons took off for flight in his first public display.
Welcome to Rocky Top Yves Pons. 👀 pic.twitter.com/iBEFOOyhiI
— Marshall Hughes (@marshallhughes) October 14, 2017
Deep on Depth
Daniel scored better than 27 points per contest two years ago and says he’s nearing 100% health. When asked on his style of play, he said he’s capable of more than just the typical three scoring methods (drive, pull up and three pointer. Daniel adds a fourth with a smile, “deep threes.”
Not a ton of answers on Kingsport native John Fulkerson. Rick Barnes said last week the six foot nine inch forward is “close,” but offered no update on a timetable on his return.
Expect Tennessee to be cautious bringing Fulkerson back. There’s only been limited contact with him and the Vols could eye a December return for the home matchup against UNC.