2008-2009 Record: 21-13, 10-6 SEC East (t-1st)
Key Losses: Josh Tabb (3.4 ppg), Emmanuel Negedu (1.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
Key Returners: Tyler Smith (17.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.4 apg), Wayne Chism (13.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg), JP Prince (9.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.5 spg), Bobby Maze (8.2 ppg, 3.3 apg)
Newcomers: Melvin Goins, Josh Bone, Skylar McBee
As has been the case since Bruce Pearl arrived in Knoxville, Tennessee will be loaded with talent, athletes, and potential. The Vols get their top seven scorers back from last season, and a lot is going to be expected of this team.
The best player will once again be Tyler Smith. Smith is such a difficult match-up on the floor. He plays the power forward spot, but his skill set is much more suited to being a small forward. His offensive game is perimeter oriented, as he is the most successful when he is putting the ball on the floor and attacking. Smith is the best creator for the Vols, and since so many other guys on the floor are going to struggle to create their own shots, he will be instrumental in the Tennessee offense.
Joining Smith up front will be Wayne Chism. Chism is a big body in the post and has shown an ability to score with his back to the basket, but he has a tendency to fade to the perimeter. While Chism is not a bad shooter, in fact it is an asset because he does have some ability to put the ball on the floor, he will sometimes fall in love with the shot. The more he stays in the paint, the more effective Chism is. Brian Williams is the other big man on this roster. Williams has a soft touch and is an effective rebounder, but he has battled weight and conditioning issues throughout his career. Freshman Kenny Hall will also provide a lot of minutes. Hall gained a lot of hype throughout his senior season in high school. He is a 6'9", athletic big man that has shown signs of having a decent back-to-the-basket game.
At the point is where Tennessee had some issues last year. They were a bit thin to start the year as Ramar Smith, who was expected to share time with Bobby Maze, was kicked out of the program before the season started. Maze had a solid, if unspectacular, junior campaign. He showed flashes of being a big-time point guard, but all in all he was inconsistent. Tennessee is going to need more play-making from the point guard spot this year, and junior Melvin Goins may be able to help. Goins is a strong ball handler and creator, but he isn't the scoring presence that Maze is. He should also add some defensive intensity, which will be just as important.
On the wings, Tennessee has a number of guys that will play. JP Prince, Cam Tatum, Scottie Hopson, and Renaldo Woolridge will all play significant minutes. And to be honest, there is not a lot of difference between these guys. Prince is probably the best, as he is an excellent defender and can create off the bounce offensively. Cam Tatum was probably the most dangerous of the group on the offensive end. He is a bit streaky, but when he is hot he can score in bunches. Scottie Hopson and Renaldo Woolridge are similar players - they are both long, athletic perimeter guys with a ton of potential that have yet to really learn how to utilize their physical tools. When its all said and done, these four guys are essentially interchangeable, but if the Vols want to win the SEC, someone from this group is going to need to step up their game and become an all-league caliber player.
Outlook: Tennessee did not press as much as last season as many people expected. Why? Because they were young and Pearl did not think that they had the ability, especially in the back court, to be effective. This season, expect the Vols to play at a much quicker pace. Offensively, Tennessee is going to be at their best when they are playing in the full court. Outside of Smith, they really don't have anyone that opponents will fear in the half court. Maze is decent, Chism and Hall can be good, but overall they were stagnant and forced too many tough threes last season. If guys like Maze, Tatum, Goins, and Prince can provide the first level of defense on the Vols press, than Tennessee has a chance to be very, very good simply because there are so many guys that are long and athletic. Think about how effective Louisville's press was last season with Terrence Williams and Earl Clark wreaking havoc picking off passes. My biggest worry with Tennessee is that they did, in fact, bring everyone back. The Vols were a disappointing team given their talent level last season. Unless some of their key guys developed during the off-season, this ranking could look way too high come March.