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FOX Talk: Can Tennessee overachieve expectations this season?

On this week’s edition of FOX Talk, Dalton Jones and Nathan Odom debate whether Rick Barnes’ Tennessee squad can finish better than the projected No. 13 spot from SEC Media Days.

Dalton Jones

There is no doubt that the Basket-Vols are better than what the media has predicted.  The Tennessee basketball team is back in action on Friday against Presbyterian.  When the Vols step on the floor, Rick Barnes’ personnel will back up my argument.

With Chris Darrington — the No. 1 junior-college guard and a JUCO All-American who averaged 20.7 points per game last season — on Rocky Top alongside Yves Pons — the Frenchman who looks to be 35 years of age but is just a freshman — the Vols bring in exciting new faces. That’s not to mention the young talent that is returning from last season.

Nathan Odom

While I like the potential this Tennessee team has, I think the hype might be a bit much for Rick Barnes’ 2017-18 squad. Sure, Darrington was an elite scorer at junior college and Pons has more bulging muscles than I have teeth. However, they join an “experienced” team that struggled to support its two best players, Grant Williams and Robert Hubbs III, on the scoreboard.

Most of the production is coming back, but the production doesn’t raise eyebrows around the SEC. The Vols may compete with the middle of the conference, but until Tennessee proves it can put a supporting cast of scorers on the court, I can’t buy in. Williams or Hubbs led the Vols in scoring in 16 games last season — former Vol Detrick Mostella led Tennessee in three more — and that’s over half of the schedule.

Dalton Jones

Another year in the weight room and another offseason to mature should spell great things for the Volunteers. Tennessee’s lack of height has raised some questions, but the physical prowess of Admiral Schofield and Pons should even that out.

For scoring, fifth-year senior grad transfer James Daniel III comes to Knoxville having lead the entire nation in scoring in the 2015-2016 season with 27.1 points per game.  The electrifying scoring of Robert Hubbs III will be missed but, Williams (who is just a sophomore) can get buckets alongside the best in the conference.

Williams and the rest of the Vols have shown they can compete with not only the best in the conference, but the best in the nation. Tennessee played the eventual national champion North Carolina Tar Heels last season and came away just short of a win in Chapel Hill. However, with another year of improvement and the Heels coming to Knoxville, this game could prove to be a huge step in the right direction in getting Tennessee back in the national spotlight.

Nathan Odom

A starting lineup of Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander boasts plenty of size and experience, but saving your potential scorers for the bench could be a bold move. Could a bigger problem even be finding the right mix of chemistry on the floor? Schofield is big, but isn’t as quick and an elite of a scorer. Bowden was a sharpshooter, but isn’t as dynamic inside the 3-point line.

Barnes will need some time to find the right combination of size, scoring and athleticism, and that could cost Tennessee. Looking further, the schedule is simply a bear. Look at non conference opponents: vs. No. 20 Purdue in the Battle 4 Atlantis, potentially vs. No. 6 Villanova, and three road trips to Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Iowa State.

Or, look at the SEC road schedule. There’s no break on the road until nearly the end of the season: at Arkansas, Vandy, Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky and then Alabama on February 10. That’s a brutal schedule that leaves off just the final three road games.

I love the potential of this team, but it’ll need to come together quickly before facing some stiff competition.

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