Whatever is or isn’t going to happen with Jeremy Pruitt, the surest joy one can choose in the athletic department right now is back on the floor tonight at 6:00 PM against Saint Joseph’s (SEC Network). The Hawks are 0-4 but have faced the sixth-toughest schedule in the nation, losing to Auburn by five in overtime, Kansas by 18, Drexel by four, and Villanova by 20. They won’t be particularly intimidated by Tennessee on the front end, though the Volunteer defense has a way of doing that by itself once these games get going.
Tennessee’s offense is coming along nicely too, bolstered by a 103-point performance against Tennessee Tech last week. Jaden Springer became the first Vol to hit 20+ points in that contest, and is now averaging an efficient 12.5 points in 19.5 minutes per game. The really interesting thing with this group is how it feels like seven different players could lead the team in scoring on a given night.
In the early going John Fulkerson (12.8), Springer (12.5), Victor Bailey (10.8), and Josiah James (10.5) all average double figures. Keon Johnson is at 7.5 in 18.3 minutes. And we know Yves Pons (6.8) and Santiago Vescovi (5.8) are capable of an outburst as well.
The freshmen will continue to get plenty of opportunities, and Tennessee may continue to run a lot of its desired offense through Fulkerson, who still leads the team in field goal attempts despite foul trouble in the opener. But we’re also seeing early signs of the efficiency that can come from great ball movement to so many options. Not only is Jaden Springer proving to be a reliable threat (19-of-29 from the floor, 4-of-5 from three), but Josiah James isn’t far behind him (13-of-28 from the floor, 6-of-11 from three, 10-of-10 from the line).
Saint Joseph’s has a decent offense, comparable to what we saw from Cincinnati though they go about it with far less height. But their defense has struggled to keep up with better talent, 249th nationally in defensive efficiency. And 48 hours later the Vols will host USC Upstate, a team on par with the Tennessee Tech squad that just lost by 54 points.
But after that it’s a week off, then SEC play on December 30 at #16 Missouri. Two more chances to tune it up. But with nothing certain on the football side of things right now, Rick Barnes’ basketball squad is truly a gift to be enjoyed this time of year, and perhaps deep into March.