College basketball often comes down to the usual suspects. Programs such as North Carolina, Villanova, Duke, Kentucky, and others always seem to be around at the end. However, there are several non-traditional teams that have a great chance this year. One of those teams is Tennessee. Here is why Tennessee can win the national championship this season.
Why Tennessee Can Win the National Championship
Last season recap
The Vols went 26-9 while winning a share of the SEC title. Tennessee lost to eventual Final Four participant Loyola (Chicago) 63-62 on a last-second shot in the round of 32. Many say if UT had won the game, then the path to the Final Four was wide open. They swept Kentucky in the regular season for the first time since the 1998-99 season. In fact, UT won in Rupp Arena for the first time since 2006. They were highly successful due to relentless defense and versatility along with their intensity.
Experience is a key factor to why Tennessee can win the national title. The only contributors they lose from last season are James Daniels and Chris Darrington. Daniels averaged 5.6 points in 19.7 minutes per game while Darrington only played 8.4 minutes a game. Returning is SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams, who averaged 15.2 points along with six rebounds. Additionally, they bring back two other double-figure scorers in senior Admiral Schofield and Lamonte Turner. Turner will be a vital piece this year with his stellar all-around play. Also, senior Kyle Alexander returns, who was a key rebounder last season. In addition to that, juniors Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden return.
Overall, eight players return to Knoxville who played in 30 or more games. Out of those eight, six of them averaged 20 or more minutes per game. This year, players like sophomores Derrick Walker, John Fulkerson, and Yves Pons should see more playing time. Due to Tennessee’s experience, chemistry and depth, they will compete for a Final Four berth, and possibly more.
Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield
Undeniably, Grant Williams has a competitive fire that is unmatched by many. Certainly, he is undersized for a post player at six foot seven inches tall. However, that does not deter him from going to battle in the paint and often winning those battles. Like many players on this Tennessee squad, he is versatile. Williams has an ability to hit a shot down low, but also distribute the ball when needed. He is one of the best defenders in the SEC as well.
While not many can match the competitive fire of Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield certainly can. Coming from a military family, his discipline and toughness show through in each game. Not only does he look like a tank playing basketball with his frame, but he is also a smooth shooter. His athleticism and strength allow him to gain tough rebounds in the paint while also stroking a nice three-point shot. Additionally, his defensive play is relentless.
Another reason why Tennessee can win the national championship is versatility. Coach Rick Barnes was able to deploy many lineup combinations last season because of that. Versatility allows UT to match up well with different styles of teams. The Vols have guards who can play small forward. Their forwards can play the perimeter or go to work in the paint. They certainly use athleticism and versatility to their advantage.
Simply put, Rick Barnes knows how to coach. Barnes understands how to motivate while pushing the right buttons. The 64-year-old coach is entering his fourth season on Rocky Top. So far, he has a record of 57-44 after having to rebuild the program from a tumultuous state. He has won 661 games in his career, including 402 while at Texas. Barnes has now taken four different programs to the NCAA tournament, Providence, Clemson, Texas, and Tennessee. All Rick Barnes needs at this point is a national title to cap an impressive career.
Cause for concern?
Two potential concerns could prove detrimental to the Vols. First, is their lack of size in the post. This was addressed by adding six-foot-nine-inch 272-pound freshman D.J Burns. However, they are expected to let him progress slowly. Zach Kent is another six-foot-eleven-inch forward who redshirted last year. He may see extended playing time as a redshirt freshman. The lack of size did not impact the Vols much last year, and it is undoubtedly better this year.
Secondly, while this team has experience, no player has made it past the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. How will they handle pressure moments? The Vols are using last years tournament loss as motivation for this season.
To sum it up
There are several reasons why Tennessee can win the national championship this season. Relentless defense, efficient offense, hustle, grit, and versatility are among them. Watch Tennessee play this year.
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