When it seemed the team would crumble after four valuable contributors were suspended stemming from an off-the-court incident, Tennesse re-grouped and pulled off a huge upset of top-ranked Kansas. The Vols then made a deep run in the NCAA Tournament before falling by one point to Michigan State in the Elite 8.
Tennessee loses three starters from last year's team but still returns eight players who averaged double-digit minutes since the Volunteers had such a deep rotation. Plus, they add a pair of freshmen and transfers who should make an immediate impact.
Junior Scotty Hopson is the top returning scorer even though he struggled with his shot with most of last season. He should be joined in the starting backcourt by Melvin Goins who will need to become more of a floor leader while taking over for Bobby Maze. Cammeron Tatum will be a key piece off the bench, while Josh Bone and Skylar McBee provide experienced depth and freshman Trae Golden will try to work his way into the mix.
The starting frontcourt jobs seem a little more up for grabs. UNC-Wilmington transfer John Fields may have stolen the starting center spot from Brian Williams during camp while Jordan McRae has emerged as the likely candidate to start at forward alongside highly recruited Tobias Harris.
Depth will not be an issue for Pearl up front. If Fields does start at center, Williams will bring his big body off the bench while sophomore Kenny Hall is capable of playing steady minutes as well. Renaldo Woolridge is a perimeter-based forward who can play either forward position, while Marquette transfer Jeronne Maymon will be a factor once he becomes eligible after the first semester. Do not forget about Pearl's son, Steven, who brings energy and hustle to the floor when given a chance.
The Volunteers will once again be a very deep team that utilizes its versatility rather than counting on one or two players to carry the load. They will be right in the mix of a very talented SEC East but figure to finish a notch below Florida and Kentucky. (On a side note, I am really going to miss Wayne Chism's headband.)
Player to Watch: Tobias Harris, F
A McDonald's All-American, Harris is an athletic 6-8 player who can play inside or on the perimeter. He can handle the ball, play in the open floor and knock down jumpers. What really stands out about Harris is his intensity and passion for playing the game. I like Harris A LOT and think he could very easily be a one-and-done and potential top-10 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.