Tennessee basketball should still be elite if Yves Pons leaves

There is enough depth on Rick Barnes’ 2020-2021 Tennessee basketball Volunteers.

Over the past month, Tennessee basketball has been at a bit of a standstill, wondering what will happen with Yves Pons. The SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year is testing the waters of the NBA Draft, and he has ever reason to do that.

If Pons, a ridiculously athletic 6’6″ 215-pound forward, does indeed decide to leave for the pros, the Vols will lose a shot-blocking machine. However, they still have all the pieces in place to be a national title contender for one reason: E.J. Anosike.

The Sacred Heart Pioneers transfer, who stands at 6’6″ 245 pounds and is the brother of two-time Lady Vols national champion Nicky Anosike, joined Tennessee basketball as a graduate transfer this offseason. He averaged a double-double last year and will be able to play immediately this year.

With Anosike, Rick Barnes has somebody he could immediately plug in at power forward if Pons leaves while John Fulkerson and Uros Plavsic hold down the center position. In fact, there’s a chance you see no drop-off.

Now, it is true that Anosike is a different player from Pons. He is more of a wide player who uses his power to dominate in the post. However, that is perfect for a guy like Barnes, who proved his ability to develop such players when he had Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.

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Anosike is in the mold of those guys. He is easily a better shooter than Pons, particularly from the free throw line, where he shot 72.8 percent last year, and he brings more power. Simply put, what the Vols would lose from Pons defensively, they would make up for in Anosike offensively.

Let’s be clear, it’s best for the Vols to have both guys. Then Barnes can alternate between Anosike and Pons depending on what he needs. But even if Pons leaves, Olivier Nkamhoua showed his own development last year as a freshman stretch-four, and while he’s not as athletic as Pons, he’s taller at 6’8″ 225 pounds. So he could come close to matching the defensive production.

Taking that into account, Tennessee basketball may not have as big of a drop-off as people think if Pons heads to the pros. If Nkamhoua develops at a rapid pace, then Barnes would still have two clear power forwards with different styles, providing for a perfect change of pace. That’s what Pons and Anosike are set to provide this year anyway if he returns.

UT’s backcourt is already set with the two incoming five-star guards, Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, and the four-star wing in Corey Walker. Meanwhile, Josiah-Jordan James and Davonte Gaines are both back, and at point guard, Santiago Vescovi returns while Victor Bailey’s eligibility returns. So the Vols are loaded there.

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At center, as we mentioned, Fulkerson has already proven himself, and Plavsic should take a major step forward. So the only question is power forward, and with our without Pons, Tennessee basketball is in good shape thanks to the addition of Anosike and potential development of Nkamhoua. Pons just creates less work for Barnes in needing to develop Nkamhoua quickly.