Tennessee Basketball: Bold Predictions for the Conference Season

Mark AlewineContributor IJanuary 8, 2013

Tennessee Basketball: Bold Predictions for the Conference Season

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    Tennessee basketball is at a major crossroads. With the news that Jeronne Maymon will redshirt this season, the look of this team is completely different than it was at the start of the season. Where the Vols were just bidding their time until Maymon’s return, they now have to find an identity without him.

    So in light of these upcoming changes, here’s a look ahead at what might be in store for the Vols this conference season.

Skylar McBee Will Be Benched for Jordan McRae

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    This might happen tomorrow. McRae has been lights out lately as the Vols' top scorer, and McBee has been non-existent. McBee’s main role on this team has always been to shoot threes, but he’s a career-worst 30 percent from range this season, nearly 10 percent lower than his 2011-12 numbers.

    By comparison, McRae has scored in double digits in four of their last five games, despite a less-than-stellar shooting percentage. Against Memphis and Virginia, he earned numbers in every statistical category. In the Memphis game especially, McRae exploded in the second half, leading the Tennessee comeback and the team to its highest scoring game of the season.

Jarnell Stokes discovers how to play Sans Maymon

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    Tennessee is going to become a guard-driven team. It doesn’t have the post players without Maymon to directly challenge opponents under the basket, which was made clear by Memphis’ 11 blocks.

    So with more emphasis on backcourt play and perimeter shooting, Stokes should have more space on the floor for scoring opportunities as opposed to battling two and three defenders every time he touches the ball. He won’t have the NBA draft numbers to justify leaving school early for the pros, but he will have better numbers than he’s had this season.

Tennessee Misses the NCAA Tournament This Season

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    The Vols simply don’t have the quality wins in nonconference and don’t have the personnel to compete with Mizzou, Kentucky or Florida (or possibly even Ole Miss) to earn them in conference play. The SEC is not as strong as others this season, and it’s unlikely it will draw more than three tournament bids with so many worthy teams coming from the Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 and mid-majors.

    Unless this team can steal wins at home against the Tigers and Gators late in the season, the Vols will be NIT-bound once again.