After a loss to the Wisconsin Badgers, it’s clear Tennessee basketball has suffered too many setbacks. The Volunteers will have a tough time recovering.
What does anybody expect them to do? Tennessee basketball lost four of its key six rotational players from last year’s team, including arguably its best player ever in Grant Williams, its inside shot-blocker and rebounder in Kyle Alexander, its leader in Admiral Schofield and its point guard in Jordan Bone.
Then they lost Derrick Walker and DJ Burns, two post players Rick Barnes planned to have for the future, to transfer. Trying to replace them, he went for Virginia Tech Hokies graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., who instead chose to commit to the Florida Gators. Then he got Arizona State Sun Devils transfer Uros Plavsic, but he wasn’t granted an eligibility waiver for this year.
So Barnes had no postgame. What happened after all of this during the season? One of the only two rotational players, Lamonte Turner, whom he planned to build this year around, has had his season end abruptly due to season-ending shoulder-surgery. He was Tennessee basketball’s only true point guard.
Simply put, this is where the Vols are. Never mind the fact that Jordan Bowden is an elite scorer, John Fulkerson is a tough player, Yves Pons has taken a major step forward and Josiah-Jordan James was a five-star recruit.
No program could suffer that much attrition and still expect to win. In addition to losing so much talent, Barnes is now without the center he expected to have in Plavsic and the point guard he expected to have in Turner, the latter of whom was also one of his returning veterans.
In their first game without Turner, you could see why they would lose a game 68-48 to another Power Five opponent after combining it with all of these other issues. What else did anybody expect after all of that?
Sure, people are worried because it was at home and the Wisconsin Badgers have not been a good team. But they did beat the Marquette Golden Eagles and took the Saint Mary’s Gaels to overtime. So they are a dangerous opponent, and Tennessee basketball was not in a right state to play them.
The Vols don’t have any true point guard or true center on the team. NBA Global Academy transfer guard Santiago Vescovi is a true point guard, but he wasn’t ready to play in this game, and it’s hard to know if he’ll be ready to step in and fill the void Turner left.
As a result, for now, UT is trying to overcome setbacks no college basketball team could overcome. So nobody should really panic about what just happened to them. They have a week before SEC play begins at the LSU Tigers, and Barnes has plenty of time to work with James while also incorporating Vescovi into the system, if Vescovi does play this year.
Taking those things into account, nobody should write off UT as a potential bubble team in the NCAA Tournament just yet. What they should understand, though, is that the Vols have had to put out tons of fires that made things very difficult for them on Saturday. There’s no reason to believe they can’t correct things in the future.