Key Departures: Jaden Springer (NBA); Keon Johnson (NBA); Yves Pons (Grad); Corey Walker Jr (–>USF)
New In Town: Justin Powell (<–Auburn); Kennedy Chandler (#8); Brandon Huntley-Hatfield (#25); Jonas Aidoo (#39); Jahmai Mashack (#61); Quentin Diboundje (#155); Zakai Zeigler (#231); Handje Tamba (#291)
State of the Program:
If you want to understand how/why Rick Barnes continues to churn out successful season’s no matter where he goes, it comes down to one thing; he’s a chameleon. Some year’s his teams are rugged defensive teams who muck it up and win with defense, and other year’s he opens the gates and lets the horses run. His willingness to mold and adapt to the talent he has available is why he is successful, and why he can play the one-and-done game successfully. Most established coaches across the country rely Last season saw 2 electric Freshman guards come in and be surrounded by a physical defensive minded roster. Springer and Johnson were springy athletes that could guard and Tennessee became a top-5 defense. Their lack of shooting and consistent scoring did haunt them in March, but a 5 seed relying on 2 blue chip freshman is a better result than the likes of Duke and Kentucky who are most notable for playing the one-and-done game. Barnes will return to the well, bringing in another loaded class who will be surrounded by a similar set of vets returning to the program, including Josiah-Jordan James (JR), John Fulkerson (SR), Victor Bailey (SR), and Santiago Vescovi (JR). This all sets up the Volunteers for another competitive season and a shot at some hardware.
The lone transfer coming in is 6’6” G Justin Powell (SO) who had a few breakout performances a season ago including multiple 26-point games, shooting 44% from 3 prior to getting injured. He should be a key piece offensively as he provides playmaking and the ability to hit outside shots, something the Vols struggled with a year ago. Next up is the leader of this huge FR class 5-star PG Kennedy Chandler (#8). Chandler is a good but not explosive athlete that gets to his spots using his smooth handles and craftiness. He’s more Chris Paul than Ja Morant in the sense that he has the poise and control to lead an offense, and looks to create for his teammates before himself. His jumper will need to develop but he finishes well through contact when attacking downhill, both in the half-court and in transition. He should come right in and be the starting PG for the Vols. The other 5-star coming in is 6’10” F Brandon Huntley-Hatfield (#25) who is a physical specimen that is developing his offensive game, but at this stage is most effective in the paint. He can block shots, rebound, and finish inside at a high level, and even has some handles and ability in transition. His jumper and skillset on the block will need to develop, but he has a very high ceiling and will play a ton at both the 4 and 5 this season. Jonas Aidoo (#39) is a 7-footer that excels at blocking shots and finishing above the rim. He is lankier than H-Hatfield and flashes a better looking jumper, albeit raw. He doesn’t have the same handles and projects as a more traditional C as he should find some minutes at the 5 this season. Wing Jahmai Mashak (#61) enters the program with a chance to compete for minutes, but in a very limited role off the bench. He projects as 3-and-D starter and major contributor, he is just buried behind a pretty busy backcourt. He plays with physicality and can attack the basket through contact, and shows a nice looking jumper that can develop into a threat. The last freshman that likely has a shot a minutes is G Quentin Diboundje (#155), who would likely be the 10th man but will surely still see some minutes sparingly throughout the season. He has a pretty good shot that is quick to release off the catch, and he is even better when attacking the basket, especially in transition. He needs to get stronger and fill out a bit but projects as a potential 3 and D guy as well, with potential to have a major impact down the road. The rest of the Freshman will likely redshirt and we will visit them next season.
All in all it’s a ton of young talent incoming for Barnes who will look to marry that group with his returning vets. A lineup of Chandler, Powell, Vescovi, J-J-J, and Fulkerson seems most likely, but Hatfield, Aidoo and Bailey will all be closely competing for those spots. The weakness that jumps off the page is playmaking, as the losses of Johnson and Springer are tough to replace. They will need Chandler to excel as a distributor, with Powell working as a point man as well. They are extremely athletic and have the options to play big with Fulkerson, H-Hatfield and Aidoo all capable bigs. I expect the leaning on the defense to continue this season, with maybe more emphasis on getting out and running, as the half-court offense could be strained this season. They have a similar ceiling as a year ago, with a veteran core and some young exciting pieces that if they marry well could give them another 4/5 seed come March. I wouldn’t expect another 1st round exit but the challenge of not having a go-to scorer will prevent them from being a true contender on the National scale.