After four (or five?) canceled games and endless worry, good news is right around the corner. We can finally say Tennessee basketball is back (and pretty soon, we are going to be taking a bite out of everyone’s ass).
I would insert a paragraph or two about how horrible the Tennessee football program is, but I don’t want to waste your time. No one wants to hear anything about Jeremy Pruitt and his sucky 2-6 football team.
Tennessee basketball > Tennessee football. #dumpthegump
But, now Rick Barnes, savior of all, and his Tennessee basketball team is here to save the day. The Vols (0-0) meet the Colorado Buffaloes (2-0) on Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. for their season opener. Tennessee is looking for their fourth straight season-opening win. However, it won’t be an easy task. Colorado isn’t a pushover. This game marks the third meeting between the two teams, with the Vols taking the first two in 1980 and 1981.
VIEW OF THE VOLS
Despite losing veterans Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner, the Vols bring back a bunch of talent.
Preseason First-Team All-SEC selection John Fulkerson should be one of the most reliable bigs in the SEC this season. Fulkerson was solid all year, but the turning point of being the “go-to” guy came against Alabama on Feb. 4. The Vols were down 15 points minutes before halftime, and it looked like four straight losses. It was getting ugly, but thanks to 22 points from Fulkerson, the Vols won the game. In the remaining nine games of the season, Fulkerson averaged 17.8 PPG and was the team’s clear leader.
Joining Fulky in the post is the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Yves Pons. Pons was one of the nation’s best defenders, accounting for at least one block in every game. Even more impressive, Pons had 15 games with at least three blocks. However, the jump he made on the offensive end was astonishing.
Pons went from shooting 28 percent from the three-point line to 34.9 percent while taking 41 more shots. His percentage from the field dropped, but 55.5 percent was good enough for 355th best in the nation. Before the season was over, Pons developed a pretty sweet free-throw line jumper.
Rumor from practice is Santiago Vescovi is a faster on-ball defender. Plus, he’s a little stronger to stop drives from bigger guards.
Last season, Vescovi was a spark with his ability to create offense in multiple ways. He did turn the ball over a tad bit more than ideal, but his offensive creation outweighs the bad. His first game, keep in mind in the middle of the season, was against LSU, where he scored 18 points on 6-of-9 from deep.
The hate for Josiah-Jordan James last season was amazingly simple-minded. He’s never going to be the “wow guy” on the offensive end. However, he does a lot of stuff right and brings length on the defensive end. If you look at the stats, his offensive production wasn’t bad. James finished the season shooting 36.7 percent from the three-point line overall and 42.6 percent in SEC play.
Finally, we have new additions. According to 247Sports Composite rankings, Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer are two of the best freshman in college basketball. There have been freshman ball out around the country, so you shouldn’t accept the COVID excuse.
According to many scouts, Johnson will be one of the best freshman defenders in college hoops. He’s also projected to be a lottery pick in next season’s NBA Draft.
There’s also E.J. Anosike and Victor Bailey Jr. to watch during the game. Anosike was one of the best rebounders in college basketball last season. According to KenPom, Anosike ranked 32nd in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage.
VIEW OF THE BUFFALOES
If you remember, the Buffaloes were leading the Pac-12 before dropping five straight games to end the season. I was higher on the Buffs than most bracketologists, were as I had them around a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Colorado lost three guys that had significant impact last season, but this is still a scrappy bunch led by McKinley Wright.
The senior guard leads Colorado averaging 22 PPG. Wright briefly entered his name in the NBA Draft with intentions to return to school. He was named Second-Team All-Pac-12 as a freshman and then First-Team his sophomore and junior campaigns.
Wright is off to a blistering start from deep, connecting on three of his seven attempts. I know it’s just seven attempts, but it’s something to watch since outside shooting was a weakness for his NBA potential.
The graduate transfer from Tulsa, Jeriah Horne, has played big for the Buffs so far, averaging 10 points and five boards per game. Horne is sneaky good from deep. To finish last season, he made 11 three-point attempts in four games.
Colorado has been pretty balanced this season. They haven’t played the toughest of schedules, beating South Dakota and Kansas State. However, they’ve only given up 61 and 58 points.
No. 12 Tennessee Vols vs. Colorado Buffaloes
When: Tuesday, December 8 at 6:00 p.m. ET
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena; Knoxville, TN
TV: SEC Network+
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Line: Tennessee -5.5
Look for things to be ugly early. Colorado already has two games under their belt. The Vols have been hit with COVID and had to stop practicing. This game should be a close one, but Tennessee will lean on Fulkerson down the stretch for the win.