5 Issues Tennessee Basketball Needs to Address Before 2014-2015
New Tennessee Volunteers head basketball coach Donnie Tyndall has quickly overhauled the team's roster, but replicating his recruiting success on the court may be a tall order with so many new faces on the team.
Tennessee's 2013-2014 season was full of ups and downs: There were some bad losses, some very bad losses, a widely circulated petition to bring back a certain controversial coach, a late-season rally and a surprise NCAA tournament run to the Sweet 16.
Just when things appeared to be settling down in Knoxville following the Vols' tournament exit at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines, Cuonzo Martin accepted the head coaching position at California and left the Tennessee basketball program in limbo.
After a short coaching search, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart hired Tyndall from Southern Mississippi, where he led the Golden Eagles to a 56-17 record and two NIT quarterfinals appearances in two years.
Despite a rash of defections, decommitments and transfers from Tennessee recruits and players during his first few weeks on the job, Tyndall managed to pull in a recruiting class that can contribute right away on the hardwood.
But to compete in the SEC and play on into the postseason, the coach and his patchwork squad of Volunteers must find a way to eliminate last season's deficiencies and improve on its strengths.
Here are five issues the team needs to address before the 2014-2015 season begins.
Honorable Mention Issues
These are issues that the Vols need to focus on during the upcoming year but won't quite sink the season if they aren't fully addressed.
Development of Armani Moore
Armani Moore has showed flashes of his athleticism during his two seasons on Rocky Top.
The former Rivals.com 3-star recruit out of Kennesaw, Georgia, has all the tools to start for Tennessee and develop his game under Coach Tyndall and alongside fellow shooting guard Josh Richardson. If he can replicate the success of Richardson's junior season, he can be a major factor in helping the Vols make noise in the SEC.
Playing on the Road
Tennessee struggled on the road last year. Losses to Xavier, Texas A&M and a Vanderbilt squad with only seven scholarship players proved that the Vols didn't become comfortable playing outside Thompson-Boling Arena until the NCAA tournament.
The team must improve its road play and win a handful of away matches during conference play to have any hope of making the NCAA tournament for a second year in a row.
Faster Pace on the Floor
Cuonzo Martin's coaching style and game plans were controversial in Knoxville, as they often led to slow-paced games and even slower starts.
Tennessee doesn't have the talent or experience to sit back and hope for a late-game or late-season rally. Tyndall's offensive philosophy should put an end to momentum-draining timeouts after big three-point shots, but the team needs to play fast and loose from Day 1 to avoid falling into a big hole late in the season.
5. Consistent Point Guard Play
After Trae Golden transferred to Georgia Tech in July 2013, Memphis transfer and senior Antonio Barton became the Vols' starting point guard.
He wasn't as effective as Golden at dishing the ball to his teammates, but he reduced turnovers at the position and brought an outside shooting threat that was especially dangerous during the NCAA tournament run.
The loss of Barton and the likely transfer of freshman Darius Thompson means Tennessee will have an opening at point guard but only a few established options to fill the role, including walk-on Brandon Lopez.
Ian Chiles, a recent transfer to the Vols by way of IUPUI, may have the best chance at locking down the position once practice begins for the 2014-2015 season.
Chiles, whom The Washington Post's Alex Prewitt called a "high-volume scorer," averaged 15.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.76 assists per game during his junior season. He will need to maintain that scoring average and increase his assists per game for Tennessee to finish higher than middle of the pack in the SEC.
4. Creating Shots
Without an established big man in the paint, Tennessee needs players who can create their own shots from anywhere inside the arc.
Right now, the only returning player who proved he can do that with consistency is Josh Richardson.
Robert Hubbs III's continued development and recovery from his injury is crucial for the team, as he was an established scoring threat in high school who needs to bring that element of his game to the table this year.
Recent signee Detrick Mostella is another potential option scoring option for the team. Raphielle Johnson of College Basketball Talk reports that scouts praised Mostella for his "athleticism and ability to attack teams off the dribble."
The backcourt trio of Richardson, Hubbs and Mostella could be even more dangerous than the duo of Richardson and McRae last year, but Hubbs and Mostella have much to prove on the court before they get respect from opposing teams and coaches.
3. Bench Points
Tennessee's starting five was responsible for virtually all of the team's points during the 2013-2014 season.
With only Josh Richardson returning this season, the team won't be able to rely on its established scorers and starters to put points on the board. Instead, Tyndall will need to find a handful of players who can come off the bench and combine to score anywhere from 10 to 14 points per game.
Because the Vols' roster will be full of new faces, the opportunities to establish significant playing time or even nab a starting position will be abundant as Tyndall learns the strengths and weaknesses of his new team.
With so many players potentially in the mix in 2014-2015, the starting lineup may evolve significantly throughout the season, giving every player motivation and incentive to play well when his number gets called down the stretch.
2. Team Chemistry
Together, Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes dominated the paint for Tennessee last season. The big-bodied duo grabbed rebound after rebound, clogged the lane and forced teams to shoot long-range jumpers.
Meanwhile, Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson were scoring machines from the shooting guard position, and the threat of either pulling up from anywhere on the floor allowed the other to get open.
Now, Richardson is the only starter left. The 2014-2015 squad is unquestionably his team, but he needs to quickly jell with his teammates to avoid becoming a one-man show.
It's equally vital that the newcomers develop a rapport with one another on and off the court, as they come from different backgrounds and coaching styles.
Meanwhile, returning Rivals.com 5-star shooting guard Robert Hubbs III will need to live up to his potential to give Richardson and the rest of the as-yet unnamed starting five a breather down the stretch.
Tennessee dominated the glass last year.
ESPN.com shows that the Vols pulled in 38.8 rebounds per game, which was good enough for 20th in the NCAA. Their rebounding prowess was a big reason why they advanced to the Sweet 16, as it was consistent all year long, even when nothing else seemed to click.
But with Jeronne Maymon using up his final year of eligibility and Jarnell Stokes declaring for the NBA draft, Coach Tyndall must dig deep to find someone on his new roster who can hold his own in the paint against the SEC's big men.
If the Vols can land him, Scout.com 3-star recruit Tariq Owens has the height at 6'10" that Tyndall needs in a rebounder. However, his 205-pound frame needs some serious work in the weight room and cafeteria for him to survive the heavyweight fight that is 40 minutes of SEC basketball.