The Tennessee Volunteers will begin the most difficult portion of their non-conference schedule Friday night, when they face the Georgetown Hoyas on the road. The game begins a two-week stretch during which the Vols will play Georgetown, Virginia and Wichita State.
Each team Tennessee will face is a well-coached, fundamentally sound team, and the Volunteers will have to bring their best game in order to emerge victorious. While Jarnell Stokes' talent and athleticism will be crucial, Trae Golden's leadership will be just as important.
Too often in past seasons, Golden has simply looked like a talented point guard who lacked complete understanding of his role within the Tennessee offense. He didn't know when to take over and when to defer, when to speed up the game or when to slow it down.
This year has been different. Aside from some rough patches against Oklahoma State, the Tennessee offense has had a much better rhythm to it, and Golden deserves much of the credit for that. Yes, Stokes remains the centerpiece of the Vols' offense, but it is Golden who is chiefly responsible for getting Stokes the ball in positions where he can succeed.
The early-season stats bear out Golden's improvement as a facilitator: So far this season, he is averaging over five assists per game against 1.4 turnovers. Last year, Golden averaged 4.5 assists and 2.9 turnovers per game.
Golden is by far the best creator the Vols have at the guard position, and his improved decision-making is an important element of Tennessee's offensive progression. Though he is shooting the ball poorly so far this year, Golden's improvement in other elements of the game have made him a very valuable player.
Tennessee is still a young team, and they will be tested in their upcoming games. If the Vols are able to notch a few quality wins over the next two weeks, Golden's veteran leadership will have been a big reason why.