Overall Rank: #5
Conference Rank: #1 SEC
2006-07: 24-11, 10-6, 2nd (t) East
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
Coach Bruce Pearl and the Tennessee Volunteers had some questions to answer heading into last year. Can the freshmen in the frontcourt be ready to play against top competition right away? Is there enough talent on the perimeter to compliment superstar Chris Lofton? The answer on all accounts was a resounding ‘yes’ and then some. With just one contributor leaving and a whole lot of talent coming in, the experienced Volunteers are ready to put the disappointing Sweet Sixteen loss to Ohio State behind them.
Do everything Dane Bradshaw has graduated after averaging 5.5 points, 4.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.9 steals as a senior. As one of just two players to start all 35 games last year, Tennessee will certainly be a different team without him. However, the 6-4 guards replacements will be just as good, a lot taller and a lot more athletic.
The biggest additions for this season are a couple of transfers from Iowa and Arizona. Tyler Smith is immediately eligible to play for the Volunteers after spending last year with the Hawkeyes. The 6-7 forward averaged 14.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals en route to All-Big Ten third team accolades as a freshman. Smith is expected to start right away and he should do a fine job replacing Bradshaw. J.P. Prince may not have made a big splash for the Wildcats like Smith did for Iowa, but the 6-7 wing is a superb athlete who will add even more depth to an already deep team once he is eligible in December, as will incoming freshman Cameron Tatum. Tatum, 6-6 wing would be getting a lot more publicity if he was going to a team that was not so loaded with returning talent, but he is a decent scorer who will make an impact before his career in Knoxville is over. Brian Williams, a 6-10 center, put up a double-double just about every game in high school. Williams will not get many opportunities to show his stuff this year, but if he does, he can grab some rebounds and use his big body under the basket for some easy buckets.
Who to Watch:
Chris Lofton will lead the way once again and the All-American will find a way to be even more effective for his senior year. One of the best shooters in the nation, Lofton averaged 20.8 points last season, but the backcourt does not end with him. He has a couple Smith’s by his side who proved to be almost as dangerous as he was. JaJuan Smith had a breakout season, averaging 15.2 points and 4.5 boards. JaJuan is a great shooter in his own right and does plenty of work on the glass on the wing. Finding a playmaker was a concern, but Ramar Smith quickly put those doubts to rest his freshman year, dishing out 3.1 assists per game. With another year of experience, Ramar is expected to perform even better. Senior Jordan Howell and sophomore Josh Tabb filled in off the bench and both were very effective roleplayers. Howell is the shooter off the bench, while Tabb, at 6-4, will help out a little more on the glass. With Lofton and the two Smith’s on the perimeter, and plenty of depth behind them, the Tennessee backcourt is one of the best in the nation.
But what makes the Volunteers so dangerous is the production they will get up front. With the third Smith, Tyler, ready to join the starting lineup, the team suddenly has a great, experienced, albeit young, frontcourt. Wayne Chism led the squad with 5.2 rebounds per game last year, but it is his ability to step outside and hit the outside shot and stretch the defense that sets him apart. Fellow sophomore Duke Crews was thrown into the fire last year too and performed admirably, averaging 8.4 points and 5.1 boards. Crews is the better defender of the two and each started 18 games last year and Coach Pearl can match up Chism and Crews based on what the team needs at the moment. With Ryan Childress available off the bench, the frontcourt has no shortage of options. Childress averaged over 15 minutes per game and, like Chism, can step outside and hit the long ball.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Ramar Smith, Sophomore, Guard, 10.7 points per game
Chris Lofton, Senior, Guard, 20.8 points per game
JaJuan Smith, Senior, Guard, 15.2 points per game
Tyler Smith, Sophomore, Forward, DNP last season
Wayne Chism, Sophomore, Forward, 9.1 points per game