While the NCAA Tournament success hasn’t matched exactly how good this Tennessee program has been in the Rick Barnes era, it is important to note that Barnes has quickly turned Tennessee into one of the top programs in the SEC. Going into this season, the Volunteers have an interesting mixture of talent and experience with players as experienced as John Fulkerson, and players such as freshman phenom in Kennedy Chandler, and everything in between. Now the question comes to whether or not this Tennessee team can exceed expectations and make a Final Four, as the talent is certainly there for that to be the case.
Kennedy Chandler is the player to watch for Tennessee, Chandler will be one of, if not the most explosive guard in the sport this season. Chandler is a 6’0 guard with lightning-quick speed, who is able to use his athleticism to become one of the best finishers around the basket. Chandler will have to be the go-to option offensively both as a scorer, passer, and as a team leader, as his play will likely greatly affect the team’s success.
Santiago Vescovi and Justin Powell will both have big roles likely playing off the ball this season. Vescovi has the ability to run the point, as he did these past two seasons, but this year he should be playing at the two, Vescovi is a good shooter, and defender, which will help this team, and playing as the two-guard will allow him to get more opportunities to shoot. Powell provides this team with a pure scorer, while Powell played on the ball much of last season, he shot over 40 percent on a high volume in his short time while healthy. With Chandler getting much of the attention in the scouting report, these two should be able to get open shots and they will be more than ready to knock those down.
Victor Bailey Jr and Josiah-Jordan James both look to potentially play minutes at the three and the four. Bailey is a good shooter, scorer, and defender who will provide some experience at the guard spot, although his inconsistency will be something to watch. James is a 6’6 guard who really hasn’t been healthy in his time at Tennessee but hopefully, he stays healthy for a full season and is able to provide minutes playing the four being a good defender, and solid scoring option.
In the frontcourt, John Fulkerson will start at the five this season in what is now his fifth season at Tennessee. Fulkerson is a good post scorer, rebounder, and defender, while he’s definitely not an elite big man, his presence inside is key for the Volunteers. Reclass big man Brandon Huntley-Hatfield provides this team with a high-upside, athletic big man that should develop throughout the season, while his shooting could be something to watch if he is able to knock down shots. James Aidoo also could be someone that develops as a potential starting big man going forward but is unlikely to play big minutes this season.
The Volunteers have a really talented roster that has a good chance to have a high finish in the SEC, and one that could make a deep run in NCAA Tournament. This team has a really good seven-man rotation that mixes in a good competition of guards and bigs. Chandler will be the key player to watch, his ability to draw doubles and kick out to open shooters will be key for this roster. Vescovi, Powell, Bailey, and James all will be needing to knock down those shots as well. While inside, Fulkerson and Huntley-Hatfield will be great pairs in the pick-and-roll with Chandler.
The major question is depth-wise for this Volunteers team, while there’s are potential issues at the four spot for this team. From a depth perspective, this is probably not any more than a seven-man rotation which is an issue should anyone get hurt, while in the SEC, the team could begin to wear down later in the season due to a high workload. While James probably starts at the four, he’s still a bit undersized and could get taken advantage of by true four men. Should the Volunteers manage around these issues, the Volunteers have SEC Championship upside, but there’s a good chance they also lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament just like a season ago.
PG: Kennedy Chandler
SG: Santiago Vescovi
SF: Justin Powell
PF: Josiah-Jordan James
C: John Fulkerson
B1: Victor Bailey Jr.
B2: Brandon Huntley-Hatfield
B3: James Aidoo