The Vols took to Thompson-Boling Arena for their last full week of practice before next Monday’s exhibition game with Pikeville. We were able to view Monday’s practice in its entirety. Here are a few notes and observations from the court and our time speaking with Donnie Tyndall, Jabari McGhee and Devon Baulkman. Make sure to catch the practice video embedded at the top of this post.
Fast and Physical Practice: As you can see from the video, the Vols get after it in practice. They push the ball up the floor and never stop on offense or defense. They’ll mainly play a 2-3 zone with man principles but worked on a few other zone looks (including the 1-3-1) in practice Monday. The team is adapting well to the zone defense as a whole which has allowed the staff to start working in other looks. They’ll take their lumps early, but with their length and athleticism, they should be a tough matchup as the season progresses. The Vols should force more turnovers than they have in a long time this season.
Improved Play: More than anything, I was struck by how much the team has improved the last few weeks. Their passes are crisper. Their defense is more intense and focused. Their offense is sharper. Their young players are making more plays than mistakes. They still have a lot of growing to do, but they’re improving faster than I expected. Kevin Punter is a clear vocal leader on the team. Mostella is scoring more and starting to minimize mistakes. The team is making a ton of very good passes. Robert Hubbs is doing more than just score. They’ll take their lumps this season, but I have no doubt they’ll improve each week.
Rebounding an Issue: Defensive rebounding in Tennessee’s zone defense continues to be a point of emphasis. Tyndall addressed it Monday. “Blocking out is so imperative this year with a team that doesn’t have an imposing front line,” Tyndall said. “That has been a teaching point every day.” The Vols struggled to box out during live 5-on-5 drills. They have to improve in that area moving forward and gave up too many offensive rebounds on Monday.
Big Orange Madness A Success: Thousands of people showed up for Big Orange Madness last Friday. Tyndall and the players praised the fans for showing up and the event for allowing them to perform in front of fans and under the bright lights of Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols practiced in Thompson-Boling for the fourth or fifth time this year on Monday in preparation for the start of the season.
Ian Chiles Still Banged Up: As was the case the last month or so, Richardson and Punter are the only players ready at point guard. Ian Chiles is still battling through a foot injury. He was visibly laboring through the last practice we watched, but looked to be a bit healthier this week. He was a full go for most of practice but developed a noticeable limp during the last portion. After the limp started, he received treatment behind the bench on his injured foot. They still need him to get healthy and game ready to help at point. If he’s not able to do so, Richardson and Punter will be forced to play a ton of minutes.
Dominic Woodson: He’s excelling in the classroom and the weight room and that effort is spilling over to his game on the court – Tennessee’s biggest player has really improved the last couple of weeks. He still needs to push through fatigue with more consistency, but he’s improving in that area. He looks like he’s lost even more weight (we don’t have an exact weight this week) and he’s clearly moving better because of it. Some practices he really blew the staff away while others he struggled to make a consistent impact. At least at the start of the year, look for him to have some big games while disappearing a bit in others. The attitude is there. The ability is there. If things continuing trending in the current direction, the production will be there in time.
Starting Five: The Vols are about a month into practice and just a week away from their first exhibition game. All depth chart notes are unofficial, but the apparent starting five hasn’t changed recently. Kevin Punter, Josh Richardson, Devon Baulkman, Armani Moore at the four and Willie Carmichael at the five look to be the starters at this point. You could see Woodson and Carmichael on the floor at the same time as well, depending on the matchup. Derek Reese, Tariq Owens, Robert Hubbs and Detrick Mostella look like they’ll see serious minutes as well.
3-point Shooting: Tennessee may be a bit streaky at the 3-point line this season, but they should be a better shooting team than last year. Baulkman, Mostella, Hubbs and Punter all have consistent strokes. Armani Moore has improved his shot as well. Even big man Willie Carmichael has a decent jump shot. He won’t light it up from deep, but teams should have to honor his shotmaking ability outside the paint.
Scrappy Bonds: Vol walk-on point guard Braxton Bonds is a really scrappy player. Tyndall mentioned a few weeks ago that Bonds would play if eligible (still no news there), and his play certainly backs up that claim. He’s not a scorer, but he’s a solid defender and can distribute the ball on offense. He can help this team whenever he’s eligible.