Tennessee basketball’s 10 biggest storylines of 2020

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Jan 15, 2019; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Rick Barnes speaks with Tennessee Volunteers forward Yves Pons (35) during the first half against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Thompson-Boling Arena. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

These were the men’s and women’s Tennessee basketball Volunteers biggest 2020 headlines.

It was a crazy 2020 for all sports, and the men’s and women’s Tennessee basketball and Tennessee Lady Vols programs were no different. Rick Barnes and Kellie Harper both were in the  midst of rebuilding years in 2019-2020. Barnes ended last year having to replace Lamonte Turner and incorporate midseason enrollee Santiago Vescovi.

As we get set to look at the biggest stories across both programs, you’ll forget about a lot of these, as they happened early on before we knew what 2020 would bring us. One of the most notable days was when the Lady Vols beat the LSU Tigers as the tragic news of Kobe Bryant passing away happened. But here, we’re analyzing stories directly related to the program.

To be clear, we’re going to ignore the success of former Vols in the professional ranks anywhere, including Candace Parker’s WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, Grant Williams emerging as an NBA player or Kara Lawson and other former players becoming coaches. Looking past that, though, these are Tennessee basketball’s 10 biggest headlines of the year.

10. Yves Pons wins 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year

After playing as a reserve for two years in the Vols’ system, expectations were for Yves Pons to burst onto the scene as an elite wing defender last year. The departures of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield meant that he was going to be a starter, and with a smaller lineup, he had to double as a wing and a stretch-four guy.

Pons’ offensive production exploded to 10.8 points per game while shooting 34.9 percent from the three-point line, and he also averaged nearly five and a half rebounds per game. However, his defense was always his speciality, and he lived up to it.

For the 2019-2020 Tennessee basketball season, Pons averaged over two blocks a game. It resulted in him winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a 6’6″ 215-pound junior at the time, proving just how elite he could be.

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