It all starts tonight for the #6 Vols. That’s the highest preseason ranking in program history, and better than any preseason ranking in football since 2005. These are good days. Enjoy them.
Lenoir-Rhyne shouldn’t find much to enjoy tonight, the Division II alma mater of Rick Barnes. As such, we shouldn’t learn a whole lot about the Vols, at least not until Friday when the Rajun Cajuns (a 27-7 NIT squad last year) come calling. More on them later. For now, in the absence of specific details to watch for against a D-II squad, here’s something to keep an eye on as the season unfolds:
#Vols coach Rick Barnes: I feel comfortable with a 10-man rotation on this team. I really do. I think we can manage that and play really well.
— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) November 1, 2018
So, what will this look like?
Last year the Vols had two primary lineups: one with Kyle Alexander and two of Bone, Bowden, and Turner. And one without Alexander where all three guards played together with Schofield and Williams. Lineups with some combination of those six players made up 42.9% of Tennessee’s minutes down the stretch of the season last year according to KenPom’s data.
Derrick Walker’s minutes varied by the opponent last year: before getting 18 minutes in Alexander’s absence against Loyola-Chicago, Walker played 9-22 minutes four times and 2-6 minutes three times in the last seven games. John Fulkerson got lots of run early, then played only a single minute (when Grant Williams fouled out?) against Georgia around three DNPs in late February/early March. Then he played 7-15 minutes in the last four games of the year.
The winner of the preseason chatter award on this team seems to be Yves Pons, who saw no SEC action until late January, then became a four minutes per game guy, then averaged seven per game in the last four. There are guard minutes up for grabs with James Daniel’s graduation. Yves isn’t going to run the point, but could he guard one on the other end for a few minutes?
The tenth man, if you believe freshman DJ Burns is headed for a redshirt, should be Jalen Johnson. He gave the Vols nine minutes in the win over Texas A&M, but otherwise wasn’t relied on for more than a couple minutes here and there in non-blowouts. Will Barnes utilize Johnson as a true member of the rotation, or will he just earn the same spot minutes?
Tennessee can be the same team in crunch time, both the with-and-without Kyle Alexander versions, if they choose to be. But in the other 36ish minutes, how will Barnes tinker? After needing 31+ minutes from Armani Moore, Kevin Punter, and Robert Hubbs his first two years, last season Barnes had the luxury of not needing any more than 28 minutes from Williams and Schofield. If the Vols go 10-deep, how consistent will the rotations be? Is there room for a breakthrough from Pons or Walker with so much traffic ahead of them? And how long will it take for this team to find its groove?
It all starts tonight.
The symphony begins. pic.twitter.com/7C04S1Ntnn
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) November 6, 2018