Team Preview: 2014 Tennessee Volunteers
By: Jonathan Salmon
The Tennessee Volunteers do not want to leave their tournament bid up to the selection committee. After losing to Michigan in the second round in 2011, the Vols were rejected in 2012 from the Madness. In fact, only three SEC teams made it to the Big Dance and none of them were those sitting on the bubble. Cuonzo Martin chalked this up to “a lack of respect” and not the unimpressive 11-7 record they had in their own conference. Either way, he aims to make it into the NCAA tournament on his team’s own bravado and not the nods of us critics.
Strongside: Coach Martin has one of the most experienced teams in the conference. Of the 15 players on his roster, only three are freshmen. That’s a good percentage of juniors and seniors, eight of whom have been with the head coach for two or more years.
Five of these experienced players consistently run the show. Jordan McRae is top gun, and at 19.2 ppg it’s easy to see why. He is shooting an admirable 44 percent from the field, which is up from last season by about one percentile point, but if he keeps averaging 29 points a game, then no one will be complaining too much.
Look to Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon to dominate the paint for the Vols. Both of them are grabbing outrageous rebounds: 10.2 and 8.0, respectively, currently number one and two in the conference.
Stokes is also averaging 14 points a game and shooting 0.483, but his boards are definitely where he comes into play the most. However, sometimes even this isn’t enough, as was shown in their game against Kentucky. He played a stupendous game against the Wildcats, dropping 20 points and dominating the glass with a game-high 15 rebounds. In fact, during the first half, the six-foot-eight junior out-rebounded the entire Kentucky team by himself 11-10, and they still lost.
Weakside: Although Martin has a mature team, his utilization of this roster is in doubt; throughout the 2013-14 season, five Tennessee players are averaging over 20 minutes with six others playing under 10. Were the Volunteers to suffer more than one injury to their top five, they would be debilitated.
The Vols are also quite shaky around their point guard position. Antonio Barton is the go-to guard for the team, but his numbers aren’t the greatest, sitting around 7.5 ppg, 1.8 apg and shooting under .040 for both field goals and three-pointers. After he went three of 20 in three SEC games the coaching staff decided to give freshman Darius Thompson an opportunity. Thompson did quite well in his first start of the season, amassing seven points and dishing seven times to his teammates, but he is only averaging 3.1 ppg so he has to start shooting or will be of no use to Tennessee.
All Told: Talk around the league is that the SEC may send only two teams to the tournament this year, Kentucky and Florida. However, those same talkers are saying that if another team is to be sent, it may very well be Tennessee. This is because the Volunteers hold two of the league’s top RPI nonconference wins—one against Virginia and the other against Xavier—but even with these wins they are only ranked 50th in the country.
If they keep their conference record around five and two, they might have a chance at a nod from the committee, but then again that hasn’t worked out too well for them in the past.