2018 Tennessee Volunteers Basketball Predictions with Odds and Expert Picks
Last year the Volunteers were a major surprise. With a coach in Rick Barnes who seemed to just be avoiding retirement for as long as possible and a roster full of players no other team was clamoring to have, they seemed to be in for a very rough season. I saw a lot of SEC previews last year, and none had the team better than 12th in the 14-team league. They just looked like a team in trouble. So, all they did was go out and win a share of the SEC title. And it's not like it was a rough year for the conference, either - they sent eight teams to the tournament. But now things are different. Now they aren't sneaking up on anyone. A roster that was unknown and not respected last year returns almost intact, so they aren't going to be able to surprise anyone like they did last year. People will be ready for them and will have their best efforts loaded up. They are one of the most experienced teams in the country. Will that be enough to carry them to where they need to be?
Tennessee Volunteers Additions/Losses
This is going to be one of the least interesting sections of any preview I write for college basketball this year - you have been warned. There just isn't too much that has changed. Shockingly little, really. The team returns all five starters and their sixth man, so they have suffered little in terms of meaningful losses. Only two players left the team this year. James Daniel III led the nation in scoring as a junior at Howard. But then he lost most of his senior season to injury, was granted an extra year, transferred to Tennessee, and struggled to find a role last year. He played nearly 20 minutes per game, so he will be missed in that sense, but his 5.6 points per game will not leave a huge hole. And Chris Darrington transferred to Toledo this year to be home with his sick mom. He played limited minutes with even more limited impact, so he will not be particularly missed, either.
As for big additions, well there is just one guy and you can argue about how big he is. Center D.J. Burns was a four-star in two of the four major recruiting services, but he was not a top 100 guy in any of them. He's a big guy who isn't likely to redshirt, so he will see some time. But don't expect him to be a difference-maker out of the gate.
Tennessee Volunteers Outlook
Junior Grant Williams, in what would have seemed like an impossible upset at the start of the year, was named SEC Player of the Year last year. He's back for more, and so is the rest of the starting five that played so well together. The group is made up of three juniors and two seniors, so you don't see a group any more experienced or ready than this one. And guard Lamonte Turner, a redshirt junior who plays starter minutes very effectively off the bench, is back as well. What the team had worked very well last year, and it is all back this year. That's such a positive. And there is upside behind them as well. Burns could grow into a role as the season progresses. Yves Pons, a sophomore guard, is an incredible athlete who is raw on the court but clearly growing into his game. Sophomore Derrick Walker and redshirt sophomore John Fulkerson should see dramatic improvement with a year under their belt and a role that should expand as trust does. And center Zach Kent, a redshirt freshman, was injured last year and should be healthy and ready to contribute this year. It should come together - at least on paper.
The issue, of course, is that what it looks like on paper doesn't always come to fruition on the court. These guys are experienced, but they also weren't highly recruited and aren't the most talented group in the country. Their ability to improve from where they were could be limited, and their ability to adapt as other teams figure out who they are and how to deal with them could be limited as well. The downside of returning essentially your whole team is that you aren't going to surprise anyone, and that makes it easier to prepare for you. The list of teams that returned a deep and successful team only to disappoint isn't short, and Tennessee will have to work hard to avoid being one of those squads.
Tennessee Volunteers Schedule
The conference season is mostly very manageable, but there are two potentially brutal spots. In the second game of the NIT Season Tip-Off, they will face either Marquette or Kansas. The former is very good, and the latter is the top-ranked team entering the season. And in the Jerry Colangelo Classic in Phoenix they will face a Gonzaga team that is also experienced and highly-ranked. Those two games will be big tests, but otherwise they should get through to SEC play mostly unscathed. Later on, they face West Virginia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in another tough contest.
The SEC schedule has plenty of tough games, but it is well enough spaced out for the Volunteers - in terms of home versus road games and in terms of opponents - that it could certainly be worse.
Tennessee Volunteers Futures Odds
There is a bit of a disconnect between polls and odds here. The Vols are sixth in the AP poll and actually got a first-place vote - not a deserved one, but one nonetheless. But at +2800 to win the national title at Bovada , they sit ninth overall there. Nevada, North Carolina and Villanova are all ranked lower with lower odds.
Tennessee Volunteers Predictions
I'm not hugely optimistic here. Sure, they are going to be a decent team, and they should finish in the top three or four in the SEC. They are certainly a tournament team. But the upside seems muted here, and the downside is real. They didn't necessarily overachieve dramatically last year, but they certainly achieved to the top end of their range. With a little less luck and a few fewer breaks things could really go the wrong way for them, and on the other hand I don't see a lot of room for improvement. I see no value in this price at all.
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