The Tennessee Volunteers made some noise in the offseason, but for the wrong reasons. Last fall, a teary-eyed Bruce Pearl admitted to recruiting violations and lying to NCAA officials. In response, the SEC suspended Pearl for 8 SEC games and levied additional penalties. The future of Pearl remains uncertain, as the NCAA just recently issued its dreaded "Notice of Allegations" against Tennessee and Pearl. On a lighter note, Scotty Hopson's high-top fade should garner him some votes for hair of the year in college basketball.
On the court, it initially appeared that Tennessee was going to brush aside the off-the-court troubles. The Volunteers stormed out of the gate, beating Villanova to win the Preseason NIT and knocking off Pittsburgh at the CONSOL Energy Center to reach No. 7 in the polls. Then Tennessee inexplicably lost three in a row to "powerhouses" Oakland, Charlotte, and USC. The two steps forward, two steps back mentality would go on to define their season. They finished a perfectly average 8-8 in SEC play.
A lack of offensive coherence has been what ails the Volunteers this year. The Vols aren't very good at outside shooting or ball distribution, meaning lots of one-on-one action in limited space inside the arc. Hopson is the playmaker, and diaper dandy Tobias Harris provides a strong secondary scoring option. The remaining starters offer little on offense, and the bench even less. The problem starts with Melvin Goins, who is a feisty point guard but limited due to his size. Further, wing Cameron Tatum has scored in double figures just twice in the past ten games, and big man Brian Williams, hampered by a bad back, really limits his contributions to offensive putbacks.
Key wins: Villanova (neutral court), at Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt (twice)
Key losses: at Charlotte, College of Charleston, Florida (twice), Kentucky (twice)
Player(s) to watch: Scotty Hopson (17.3 PPG), Tobias Harris (7.3 RPG), Melvin Goins (X-factor)
Tennessee profile by Kevin Berger and Jeff Chao.
For more on the Tennessee Volunteers, please visit our Tennessee blog, Rocky Top Talk.