Allegations and questions are swirling around outspoken Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, but the 2010-11 season is set to move forward and a promising squad is looking to block out the distractions and focus on returning to the NCAA Tournament for a sixth consecutive year.
The Volunteers reached the Elite Eight last season, the furthest the program has ever reached in the Big Dance. This was their third trip to the round of 16 or better in four seasons, but now investigators are looking into Pearl’s recruiting tactics.
How he acquired his recruits is a question, but nobody is questioning the players’ ability. A stellar freshmen class arrives this season, including forward Tobias Harris and guards Trae Golden and Jordan McRae. All three come lauded as at least four-star recruits and with expectations to have an impact early.
They will not have to make too much of an impact as Tennessee returns nearly the entire squad that was within one point of reaching the Final Four last season. The one loss, however, from last season is a significant one—leading scorer and rebounder Wayne Chism.
Returners include all-SEC second-team guard Scotty Hopson and guards Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum. Freshman Harris is expected to start at forward right away with 6'10" center Brian Williams showing the ability to become a dominant big man in the conference.
There is plenty of depth on Pearl’s bench with guards Skylar McBee and Kenny Hall, forwards Josh Bone and coach's son, Steve Pearl.
Tennessee Volunteers College Basketball: Offseason Changes
Chism was a force down low for Tennessee for four seasons, and it will take some time for this team to get used to moving forward without him. Williams has plenty of ability and size, but he is a different type of big man. The three heralded freshmen will all have an impact, but Harris could easily turn into an elite player in the conference.
Tennessee Volunteers Basketball Outlook
While distractions may be quite high, expectations surprisingly are not. Tennessee was only tabbed to finish fourth in the SEC Eastern Division behind Florida, Kentucky and even Georgia. A lot of the season will hinge on what Pearl can get out of his freshman class and how Hopson shoots from the outside. Hopson has started 66-of-71 games since arriving in Knoxville three years ago. The junior guard led the Volunteers in three-pointers made and minutes played last season while finishing second in scoring (12.2 points per game) behind Chism.
This has to be his team now, and when he is on point from three-point range, the Vols are very dangerous.
Tennessee College Basketball Odds
The SEC media members picked Tennessee to finish fourth in the SEC East, but the college basketball handicappers give them the third best odds to earn the No. 1 seed out of the Eastern Division for the SEC Tournament. Tennessee at +350 is listed behind favorites Kentucky (+125) and Florida (+150) to finish first in the SEC East. The Volunteers odds to reach the NCAA Championship Game are +1600 and to win it, +5000.
Tennessee’s season starts with a home date Nov. 12 with Chattanooga and then four days later the Vols host Belmont in what amounts to the first round of the NIT season tip-off. Other teams in the Knoxville leg of the tournament include Missouri State and Arkansas State. If Tennessee were to advance to Madison Square Garden, it could expect to run into other first-round hosts including UCLA, Villanova and Wake Forest.
Tennessee College Basketball Predictions and Betting Picks
Tennessee has a big void to replace with Chism off to the professional ranks, but there is plenty of talent from a group of players who helped elevate this program to new heights. The only variables with Tennessee this season are how they handle the distractions and how the freshmen play when called upon. Those are not many risks and Tennessee should be right in the mix in the SEC East with top dogs Florida and Kentucky; there is plenty of value with Tennessee at +325 to win the SEC East.