Feels Like a Basketball Preview - Part 1
Tennessee returns to the hardwood in 2012-2013 on the heels of a season widely considered a success for coach Cuonzo Martin. The Vols finished 19-15 overall and 10-6 in the SEC which was good for 2nd place. The season started promising with tough battles against Duke and Memphis in the Thanksgiving Maui tournament, but after the trip to Hawaii the team struggled to meet the demands of Coach Martin on the defensive end, and the motion offense was very much a work-in-progress all year. However, once Jarnell Stokes arrived, the Vols began to hit on all cylinders and closed out the regular season 8-1 after losing to Kentucky in Rupp Arena. The team showed marked improvement on the defensive end from both a technical and intensity standpoint. Many thought this would be a significant rebuilding job for Martin, but expectations are already for an NCAAT berth (and more) for 2012, with many various outlets ranking the Vols in the preseason top-25.
PPG – 13.6RPG – 3.0APG – 4.5TPG – 2.93Pt% – 38.8FT% – 82.8
Golden returns for his junior year, after a solid sophomore campaign in which he led the team in both scoring and assists. Offensively, Golden was one of the most consistent scorers on the team, going for double-digits in over 25 games. He was also the biggest facilitator and playmaker, with the offense running noticeably smoother with him in the game. Golden returns as the only playmaker who can create for others on the perimeter, and his playmaking ability will be critical for this team. His importance to the team was evidenced by his team-leading 5.1 +/- average last year. He also will need to get the ball down low to Maymon and Stokes early in possessions to allow them to go to work, and good decisions will be need to be made by Golden to ensure this happens. Golden’s biggest weakness and needed area of improvement is his defensive game. Golden was routinely susceptible to getting beat by quicker point guards in the league. Injuries and the amount of minutes he was forced to play contributed to this, so hopefully Golden can get and stay healthy and improve on D.
Armani looks to solidify himself as the backup PG who can hopefully alleviate the burden that Golden currently carries. The early impressions on Moore are that he is a tenacious defender, very athletic and big at 6’4 or 6’5, and somewhat raw on offense with lots of potential on that end. Although the backup PG situation might be something of a platoon early on this year, a reliable option to back up Golden and allow Richardson to focus on the 3 would be ideal. Moore played exclusively at the 1 during the team’s trip to Italy over the summer, and reportedly impressed in that role. The Italy experience should pay dividends for Moore (and the whole team overall, but especially the newcomers) as he assimilates himself in to the team. While the competition was indeed questionable, being coached in game situations can’t be duplicated. Hopefully he can give a good 15 minutes a game, and let Golden stay at 25 and under. Can he handle full-court or ¾ court pressure, handle the ball, and advance it? This is what often held Washpun from seeing the floor. Obviously he will need to be able to initiate the motion offense, but Martin has consistently said that his system doesn’t demand a dynamic, play-making PG – it’s a team motion effort and Moore should benefit from the rest of the team’s experience.
PPG – 8.6RPG – 2.9APG – 1.5TPG – 1.53Pt% – 32.8FT% – 75.9
McRae enters his junior year after a sophomore year where he often showed glimpses of brilliance, but was maddeningly inconsistent over the course of the year. Offensively, he showed his potential, going for 15+ in 5 games, but he had long stretches of forgettable performances all season long. Improving his basketball IQ and feel for the game is a must for McRae to become a more consistent contributor. Oftentimes he was out of control and committed silly turnovers, as well as taking poor shots. McRae shot about 33% from 3, which is on the bottom end of acceptable, but only shot 37.7% from the floor overall, which absolutely must improve for him to see increased minutes. He has a nice shooting stroke but his mechanics lead to inconsistency. Defensively he was much improved over his freshman campaign, but still has plenty of improvement left to be made for him to become the defender that he needs to be. It’s very possible that McBee starts over McRae if some of these improvements are not evident early on.
PPG – 6.6RPG – 1.3APG – 0.7TPG – 0.73Pt% – 39.1FT% – 83.9
McBee was much more consistent in his junior year than he had been previously in his career. McBee’s effort, particularly on the defensive end, was always at a maximum, and he was able to consistently knock down open jump shots during the year as evidenced by his solid 39.1% from behind the arc (best on the team). McBee actually played more minutes than McRae last year at over 22 per game, and his role will be very important this year since all of the attention that Maymon and Stokes receive in the post should leave some open shots for McBee on the perimeter. The team needs to able to count on McBee for 2-3 3balls a game to keep the defense from collapsing. His tenaciousness on D will also be needed to help set the tone of games. He needs to be able to take advantage of the attention Stokes and Maymon will command in the post – he will have opportunities to find open shots in our motion offense with defenses collapsing to double either Stokes or Maymon.
Chievous is now in his second year in the program after redshirting last year. Chievous is known as a tough, aggressive basketball player that seems to fit the mental mold of what Martin is looking for in his players/team. At 6’5 210, he is a big, strong 2 guard. Chievous is able and willing to utilize his size at the guard spot, backing down smaller defenders and utilizing his post-game which is unusually advanced for a young perimeter player. Additionally (and a common theme among Martin recruits thus far) is that he is a tenacious and active rebounder. At 6’5, that can be hard to stop. Chievous also plays aggressive defense. His perimeter game is still in the development stage. From the authors’ perspective at the open basketball practice, he has a great stroke and potential, but it’s hard to gauge where he is with the offense right now. Personally, I am incredibly excited about Chievous’ career here, but don’t think he will get significant minutes this year due to the logjam at the 2/3 positions (barring injuries of course). It will be interesting to see if Chievous actually makes Martin considering moving McRae to the 3 to get him some minutes behind McBee, however.
PPG – 2.9RPG – 1.4APG – 0.7TPG – 0.93Pt% – 23.7FT% – 64.0
Richardson is a gritty, tough basketball player who lays it all out on the line (do you sense a common theme here?). While Richardson’s 2011 stats aren’t pretty, they are not really indicative of the type of player he is nor his contributions/role to the team. He is stronger than his 6’6 185 frame suggests, and he is a competitor. Richardson will need some time to develop on the offensive end. He is a solid athlete but not explosive, and his perimeter game is lacking at this point. For 2012, he needs to become comfortable in our offensive system and become somewhat of an auxiliary playmaker next to Golden – it doesn’t need to be fancy, oftentimes just making sure the offense is running correctly and ensuring the ball is being distributed to our scorers. Richardson looks to be a 4-year “glue guy” type player, one of those guys you see playing their junior or senior seasons at a good mid-major program and wish you had.
Edwards begins his first year in the program after transferring from Brevard C.C. in Florida. D’Montre’s reputation is that of a guy who can knock down the open 3 and is relentless crashing the boards (particularly on offense). Though listed at 6’6, he appears to be more in the 6’7-6’8 range from what I’ve seen. His shooting stroke is basically textbook, and with his size he should be able to consistently knock down the open 3. It will be important for him to be consistent from the perimeter to keep the defense honest. If he is consistent, a line-up of Golden, McBee, Edwards, Maymon and Stokes would be a formidable inside-out offensive threat. The keys for Edwards in 2012 are defending his position against smaller, quicker 3s that he will see, crashing the offensive glass and creating 2nd opportunities for our offense, and as noted earlier, establishing himself as a consistent outside threat shooting the ball.
Reese will likely redshirt after a torn labrum during the summer. Martin purportedly likes Reese’s ability to defend basically all of the positions on the floor.
PPG – 12.7RPG – 8.1APG – 1.2TPG – 2.5FG% – 55.8FT% – 65.8
Maymon, the leader and heart and soul of the team, returns for his senior year. The Marquette transfer was the most consistent player on the roster last year despite being hampered by injuries basically the entire season. Maymon helps set the tone of toughness for the team that Cuonzo is looking for. The biggest concern with Maymon is simply health, particularly in regards to his knees. Maymon had off-season arthroscopic surgery (as did Golden) to hopefully fix issues that plagues him last year. Although it simply may have been precautionary, Maymon was not a participant in the open practice held a few weeks ago, and he does not seem to be 100%. However, he played with the team during their sojourn to Italy and moved around fine, but was clearly not fully back. As far as basketball is concerned, Maymon needs to excel in a few areas in order for the team to reach its potential – First, he must become a more consistent FT shooter. With his strength and girth, he is able to bully the majority of college players around inside and get great position. However, at 6’7, he isn’t a dominant finisher and is often fouled to prevent the easy buckets. He gets to the line more than anyone else on the team (184 times in 2011 – the next closest was Golden at 157, then it’s a huge drop-off after that). His percentage isn’t terrible for a college big at 66%, but he needs to simply be more consistent game-in, game-out. In addition to FT shooting, Maymon needs to be an effective passer, both inside to Stokes and Hall and also outside to shooters when he is double-teamed. Maymon displayed early chemistry with Stokes last year, and they form truly a formidable (and one of the best in the country) 1-2 punch down low for Tennesee. In something of a statistical oddity, Maymon led the team in steals per game at 1.0 last year – this is probably more indicative of Martin’s overall philosophy of tough, smart defense that doesn’t gamble than anything else.
PPG – 2.4RPG – 1.5APG – 0 TPG – 0.2FG% – 51.0FT% – 25.0
Miller, the forgotten man in the post rotation for 2012, had an inconsistent season in 2011. There were 11 games where he saw no action at all, and his minutes and production were inconsistent in those games in which he did play. While he clearly is at the mercy of Maymon’s knee as to how much playing time he will see, the team needs Miller to be a solid back-up who can provide solid minutes in order to spell Hall, Maymon, and Stokes. Miller’s role won’t often be talked about, but if he can come off the bench and defend, rebound, and can create some second-chance opportunities on the offensive end, he will be a valuable member for 2012. And also, Dwight – pass the rock homie. 1 assist for an entire year is just embarrassing.
PPG – 9.6RPG – 7.4APG – 0.7TPG – 2.1FG% – 53.4FT% – 56.9
Enough cannot be said about the unique transition that Stokes experienced in 2011 or his potential impact on this program. We all know the story so I won’t rant on about it, but I truly believe it was one of the more amazing stories in recent college hoops memory. As previously alluded to, Stokes and Maymon had great chemistry in 2011 in the short time they were on the court together, displaying a willingness and ability to find each and both were able to draw attention to themselves, then pass the ball for easy buckets to their partner. This was purely just on natural talent and natural feel for the game, as Stokes hadn’t even practiced with the team more than a handful of times. For 2012, Stokes’ potential is tantalizing. The obvious and recent comparison is Jared Sullinger from Ohio State – both strong, skilled, and have touch til about 15 feet. He established himself as one of the strongest players in the country last year from the minute he stepped on the court, making him too much to handle for the majority of players on their lonesome. Paired with the similarly-strong Maymon, and you have a combo that is truly unique in the country this year. Teams will likely focus the majority of their attention on ball denial for both Stokes and Maymon, so it’s important that they not get frustrated and continue working when they go through stretches of games without a touch. Stokes needs to develop trust in the aforementioned perimeter players, and needs to make the smart basketball play when he is doubled. But at the end of the day it’s pretty simple for Stokes – get in shape and keep doing what you have been doing, and no one will be able to stop you. Free-throw shooting needs to improve, and should because he has a significantly better shot than the 56.9% from the charity stripe last year would indicate. Billy Donovan coached Stokes during the 19 & Under USA basketball team during the summer and gushed about Stokes and his inability to be stopped because of his strength and skill on the block. Simply put, Tennessee fans are in for a treat watching Stokes this year. And while I’m passing on the obligatory shoe size comment, if adidas doesn’t get him shoes that match this year I want them fired solely based off of that.
PPG – 6.2RPG – 4.5APG – 0.4TPG – 1.3FG% – 54.0FT% – 65.3
Hall disappointed his teammates and fans by getting himself suspended for the last portion of the season last year. He was having a fairly solid year prior the suspension, but he was plagued by inconsistency. Hall’s role will be the first post off of the bench. Hall can play either the 4 or the 5 but he most likely will replace Stokes initially. It will be very interesting to see how the post rotation evolves throughout the season – Hall is an SEC forward, but will he finally mentally mature and accept his role? Will he play with consistent effort and energy? Will he play with a higher basketball IQ this year? These intangibles will determine Hall’s success this year more so than physical improvement. If Hall does these things, he will have an incredibly important role and could help this team become special. If not, either Yemi Makanjuola or Dwight Miller need to step up.
PPG – 2.3RPG – 2.8APG – 0.1TPG – 0.3FG% – 59.1FT% – 45.5
Yemi looked about as expected in 2011 – Incredibly raw. His statistics are actually pretty decent for the 8.3 minutes per game he played, and he will not be asked to much more this year with Stokes and Hall in front of him on the depth chart. For Yemi it’s really just becoming more comfortable with the game, continuing to play hard in the minutes he’s given, and developing confidence with his game. He has size and he’s coordinated, and if you mix hard work with those things you can become an effective college basketball player in time.