Hoop Hype has been high on Rocky Top all summer and through the fall.
On Wednesday night, Tennessee woke from its slumber draped in high expectations and promptly brutalized their singular exhibition game of the season. Here are the hot points.
TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS: An exhibition game means close to nothing. It’s a glorified, public scrimmage. Teams like to shake the rust off, run their system, sweat a little and generally wake up your game gear. The two true exhibition priorities are to get your dudes back in rhythm and DON’T GET INJURED. Tennessee successfully checked those boxes and, like you’re supposed to, pulverized the competition quick and clean.
LIFE AFTER 5: Tennessee is one of very few top-25 teams to return all five starters. That’s great, but if they intend to outshine the past, Tennessee absolutely must identify and refine their bench ASAP. Acclaimed sixth-man LaMonte Turner didn’t do much in the exhibition, but he’s accustomed to coming off the bench to deliver Tennessee from evil. Beyond LT, the field still looks like a big-time work in progress. Unfortunately, time is of the essence. The season cometh. Coach Rick Barnes has said he wants to rotate 10, but that’s going to take some work, still. The Vols got quality minutes from Turner, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson and Jalen Johnson. They will, at minimum, need big guys Derrick Walker and DJ Burns to take vivid steps forward to relieve Kyle Alexander, who was regularly exhausted last year as Tennessee’s only true center.
THE PONS ARE MOVING: Make no mistake about it: Tennessee has bonafide stars in Grant Williams and Admiral Scofield. These are stars. But the star Tennessee really wants to cultivate is Yves Pons. Off season videos by Tennessee’s creative team showed Yves dunking from the free-throw line, which is only a small illustration of his freakshow of physical talents. But much like last year, Pons looks awkward trying to manage his own limbs at times on the court. When he gets up to full-speed, he tends turn right past the play. The only times he didn’t look awkward were when he was airborne to block shots or knock down a couple of beautiful, casual three’s. The potential is vivid, but Rick Barnes has had this guy in the room long enough to explain what’s what. It’s time to see Yves become worthy of his hype.
THA BLOCK IS HOT: One very positive trend in Tennessee’s exhibition came in the form of aggressively crashing shooters and swatting away shots. The final numbers don’t remotely reflect how the Vols came in waves of disruptive swats at every Tusculum shot. At points, it felt almost like big kids were playing ball with much younger players. That style of aggressive D is Rick Barnes’s trademark and this increase in block attempts elevates an already-scary defense to a new level.
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