Hey look, basketball content in late June!
A point I would love to have made with Kerry Blackshear coming to Knoxville: in Ken Pomeroy’s player comparisons ($), Blackshear’s 2019 season was most similar to 2017 Johnathan Motley from Baylor…and 2014 Jarnell Stokes. Would you like to add a Jarnell Stokes to Tennessee’s roster? Absolutely. But the Orlando native is headed to Gainesville, and the Vols seem set with their 2019-20 roster.
Adding Blackshear would’ve kept Tennessee in a Top 15 conversation. What do expectations for Rick Barnes’ fifth team look like without him?
In Joe Lunardi’s June 27 Bracketology update, the Vols are an eight seed. That’s down from a six seed on May 16, though I’m not sure if he was counting Grant Williams and Jordan Bone in or out at that point. Tennessee is one of seven SEC teams in the field: Kentucky at two, Florida at three, Auburn at five, then a bunch of teams together with Mississippi State (seven), Tennessee and Ole Miss (eight), LSU (ten), and Alabama (first four out).
Other Vol opponents in Lunardi’s projected field: Memphis is a four seed, Washington a nine, and Cincinnati the Vols’ first round foe in the bracket at nine. Tennessee is the lowest projected seed of the four teams in the Emerald Coast Classic, with Purdue (four), Florida State (five), and VCU (six) all carrying expectations beyond just getting in. Wisconsin, however, is not in Lunardi’s projected field.
As we should expect from Barnes, if the Vols don’t get in it won’t be because of their strength of schedule. It’s also worth noting the last two times the Vols lost the core of one of their best teams in 2008 and 2010, they were in the 8/9 game the following year in 2009 and 2011. That 2011 team could become a decent comparison (without the Bruce Pearl drama) with Josiah James as the program’s first McDonald’s All-American since Tobias Harris that season.
After the UCLA drama, we looked at the expectations that come with paying a coach $4 million plus: make the Final Four at least once per decade, make the Sweet 16 more often than not, and make the tournament 90% of the time. I think the last one is still a good goal for Tennessee this season, and one Barnes won’t shy away from after getting Texas there 94% of the time. The Vols are replacing a ton from Williams, Schofield, Bone, and Alexander. But they also have really good pieces coming back in Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden, guys who’ve made big plays in big wins. They understand the expectations because they helped create them.
Sure, Tennessee’s ceiling is going to depend on its newcomers. And not just the five-star, but the supporting cast of Drew Pember, Davonte Gaines, Olivier Nkamhoua, D.J. Burns, and Uros Plavsic. More than one of those guys is going to play a meaningful role right away, and we won’t know exactly what we’ve got here until we see it. There’s also certainly the development factor for John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, and Jalen Johnson.
That ceiling would’ve been higher right away with Blackshear in the fold. Instead, we’ll get to watch it grow for ourselves over the course of the season. Making the tournament is now the regular expectation. We’ll see how well this group can position themselves along the way.