In most cases, a team gets worse after losing one of its greatest players ever.
There is no doubt among Tennessee basketball fans that guard Chris Lofton will go down in Volunteer history as one of the best players to ever wear orange on the court. But despite losing the reigning SEC Player of the Year to the pro ranks, the Volunteers plan on rebounding quickly. Which means winning the SEC for the second season in a row.
With every team in the SEC gunning for them the task won’t be easy. But before they confront a grueling SEC run the Vols will have there fair share of tough games out of conference. The Vols will enter their SEC schedule after home games against Marquette and Gonzaga and a huge road trip on Jan. 3 to play against defending national champion Kansas.
The big out of conference game comes as no surprise though, when the Vols will play host to the Memphis Tigers on Jan. 24. The instate rivals who molded a precocious one vs. two match up last February, which Tennessee won, will battle again for state supremacy, but more so a higher seed in the NCAA tournament. The winner of the game will have at least one huge win on their resume when March rolls around.
Bruce Pearl, who took over as head coach three seasons ago, has led the Volunteers to three consecutive tournament births along with advancing the team to two straight sweet 16’s. Pearls biggest accomplishment came last season though when the Volunteers won their first regular season SEC title outright in forty-one years. Also the school claimed it’s first ever number one ranking. Pearl has the Volunteers in place to repeat, but will be challenged by a familiar foe.
Tennessee will be tested this year by a hungry Florida Gators team that doesn’t seem to be drawing as much media respect as they should. Billy Donovan and sophomore star Nick Calathes will definitely be in the hunt for another SEC title and will give Tennessee a run for their money. On the last day of January the Gators travel to Knoxville, and then on the first day of March the Vols will travel to Gainesville in a game which could have conference title implications.
Despite losing Chris Lofton, their leading scorer last year, along with the Smith duo, Ramar and JaJuan, the Volunteers have plenty of scoring threats.
Tyler Smith, a junior forward from Pulaski, Tenn., who transferred to Tennessee from Iowa, has developed into one of their star players on offense and defense. He will take over the playmaker reigns. Smith is an all around hustler and has even been projected to be a third-team All American by Sports Illustrated.
Smith isn’t the only junior forward returning though. Wayne Chism is a vibrant and colorful player as well as a dominating rebounder in the low post and will help solidify the Volunteer frontcourt.
The Vols have a trifecta of junior guards, which include starting guard Bobby Maze and key role players Josh Tabb and J.P Prince, who will definitely secure a large amount of playing time. Prince is one of the best athletes in the country and can do just about anything.
Pearl will have to rely a lot on his freshman, most notably guard-forward Cameron Tatum from Tucker, Georgia, who could take home SEC freshman of the year award.
Scotty Hopson headlines a robust class of players, which include point guard Daniel West, forwards Emmanuel Negedu and Renaldo Woodridge, and center Philip Jurick.
Preseason analysis questioned Tennessee’s backcourt along with its depth, but one element of the Volunteers that nobody doubts is the fact that they will score. Pearl has implemented his style of play, which has been extremely consistent thus far, but this will be the first season it will be put to the test. After all, this will be his first season without Chris Lofton.