Seven Weekend Observations

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By Ryan Feldman
rfeldman@thehoopsreport.com

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tennessee Volunteers
Last Season: 28-9 (11-5)
Key Losses: Wayne Chism, Tyler Smith, JP Prince, Bobby Maze
Head Coach: Bruce Pearl

Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Melvin Goins 5-11 Sr.
SG: Cameron Tatum 6-6 Jr.
SF: Scotty Hopson 6-7 Jr.
PF: Tobias Harris 6-8 Fr.
C: Brian Williams 6-10 Sr.
Key Reserves: John Fields 6-9 Sr. PF, Kenny Hall 6-9 So. PF, Renaldo Woolridge 6-8 Jr. SF, Skylar McBee 6-3 So. SG, Steven Pearl 6-5 Sr. SF, Jordan McRae 6-6 Fr. SG, Trae Golden 6-1 Fr. PG

Tennessee has its doubters this year. Bruce Pearl is in some trouble, and the Vols lost Wayne Chism, Tyler Smith, JP Prince and Bobby Maze. The team looked like it would fall apart in January when a handful of Vols players were arrested and Smith was dismissed from the team. But the Vols won 18 of their next 24 games, including a win over No. 1 Kansas, and reached the Elite Eight, where they lost by a point to Michigan State.

So with eight impact players returning from that team as well as a McDonald's All-American, there's no reason the Vols can't be just as good or better this season.

Scotty Hopson is ready to blossom into a star. The 6-foot-7 junior has all the raw talent. He has great size for a wing, he can shoot the ball with the best of them, he can handle the ball, he can create his own shot, and he's athletic. He attempted the most shots on the team last season and was second in scoring with 12.2 points per game.

Hopson can certainly score, but he has plenty of flaws he needs to fix if he wants to be a star and lead the Vols to a successful season. He shot 33.3 percent from 3-point range last season. That is not a percentage that a good outside shooter shoots. He shot 58.8 percent from the free throw line. That is not a good percentage at all for someone who will have the ball in his hands late in games and will need to knock down clutch free throws. And finally, Hopson averaged more turnovers (2.1) than assists (1.2). That he is unacceptable. He has to be able to create plays for his teammates. He can't shoot the ball every time he touches it.

Tobias Harris will be a key to Tennessee's success this season. The 6-foot-8 freshman forward can score inside and outside. He does most of his work in the paint, getting around slower big men or posting up on smaller big men. But he can also take his defender out to the perimeter and score off the dribble or knock down deep jumpers. The Vols need Harris to be an impact player right away. He and Hopson need to carry the offensive load.

Brian Williams will be a vital player for the Vols. The 6-foot-10 senior is a bulky big man who uses his size and strength to back down defenders and score easy baskets. He has a nice finesse game in the post and score in a variety of ways. He averaged 5.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in 19.1 minutes per game last season.

Cameron Tatum is a pure shooter. He likes to spot up on the perimeter and catch and shoot. Tatum shot 38.9 percent on 3-pointers last season and averaged 7.4 points and 16.9 minutes per game. With an increased role this year, the Vols will need him to step up and score much more.

Melvin Goins will have to step in and run the point for the Vols. He averaged 5.3 points and 1.8 assists in 16 minutes per game last season. He isn't an ideal starting point guard but the Vols need him to be a solid floor leader. His backup will be freshman Trae Golden, who may or may not be ready to step in be an effective point guard right away.

The Vols have some solid depth coming off the bench. Renaldo Woolridge and Kenny Hall give the Vols a pair of athletic, long forwards who both averaged around four points and three rebounds per game last season. John Fields, a 6-foot-9 transfer from UNC-Wilmington who averaged 10.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last season, gives the Vols a third viable frontcourt option off the bench.

Skylar McBee is a good outside shooter who can come in and knock down some 3-pointers. Steven Pearl, the son of Bruce, is a strong defensive player who doesn't bring much offensively. Jordan McRae is a top-50 recruit who will give the Vols a viable option off the bench on the wing. The 6-foot-6 freshman is a pure scorer.

This team has plenty of depth and versatility. There is no doubt the Vols have the talent to compete at the top of the SEC. But they have a couple of questions that will determine exactly how successful they are this season. Will Hopson and Harris emerge as reliable stars? And will Goins be a reliable point guard who can make his teammates better? If both of those answers are closer to 'yes' than 'no,' then Vols fans will have nothing to worry about.


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