Insider Mailing: The Frustrating Basketball Vols Edition

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    Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

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    We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.

    “What’s the ceiling for the BasketVols?” – Erzhan

    Nathanael: To me, the ceiling is finishing third in the whole SEC. But I don’t think this team is going to reach that ceiling because they’re too inconsistent. This Vols team is good, don’t get me wrong. But their guard play is too erratic and still too young to be reliable enough when the Vols face teams with good post defense. If Tennessee’s guards will hold them back or propel them to excellence this season.

    Will: I think a Sweet 16 appearance is the ceiling for this team. They’re good enough to finish in the top four of the SEC, which would mean a two round bye in the SEC tourney. But they need more help from their guards.

    “How can the men’s team bounce back from there horrible offense effort in Missouri?” – @thefloridavol

    Nathanael: I’ll go back to what I said in the previous answer: Finding more consistent guard play. James Daniel III needs some more minutes in my opinion, and Jordan Bone has been solid when he’s not trying to create too much offense for himself. Bowden needs to find some more confidence, because he’s a great shooter when he actually finds good shots. Grant Williams and Admiral can’t do it all. They’re starting to get more consistent help from Kyle Alexander, but UT’s guards have to play better.

    Will: Jordan Bone has to be more consistent. Jordan Bowden has to take…and make…more open shots. He’s been on a bit of a cold spell recently. And they need to find one more guy who can contribute to the lineup on a consistent basis. Whether that’s Chris Darrington, Jalen Johnson or Derrick Walker, one more guy has to step up off the bench in order for this team to continue improving.

    “When do we start holding Barnes accountable for these close losses and do we consider them to be ‘inexcusable?'” – Hunter

    Nathanael: When Tennessee actually has an “inexcusable” loss. None of the Vols’ losses this season have been “inexcusable.” None. They’ve been frustrating, yes. And Tennessee has blown some big leads in some of them. But they’ve all been to good or even great teams. All five of the Vols’ losses have come against teams inside the top 35 of the RPI. And four of them have come against teams in the top 25 of the RPI. I’ve talked before about my concerns with Rick Barnes’ coaching in tight games, but the Vols also showed good resolve in closing out games against Kentucky and Texas A&M. It’s nearly impossible to win every game in basketball, and I think far too many Vol fans approach basketball with a football mindset. You’re going to lose some head-scratchers in basketball unless you’re one of the most elite teams in the country. Until it costs the Vols in a game they had no business losing, I’m not going to get too mad. Barnes should be held responsible to an extent, but a lot of has to do with execution from the players. I promise you that Barnes didn’t draw up some of those shots that Turner took against Missouri, and he didn’t miss that wide open layup that Bone missed either.

    Will: Seriously? There hasn’t remotely been an “inexcusable” loss this season. “Inexcusable” is losing to Furman or High Point. But there aren’t any bad losses on the road in the SEC. Especially this year, when the league is so much better than usual. Barnes has done a fantastic job resurrecting a dormant program. And he shouldn’t even be remotely close to any kind of hot seat.

    “Who from this past season were redshirted and which redshirts could make the biggest impact this year?” – Franklin 

    Nathanael: Thanks to injuries (again), the list of redshirts for the football team is pretty small. At least for players of note. Todd Kelly Jr. did get a medical redshirt, so he’ll be returning as a fifth-year senior in 2018. He’ll likely have the biggest impact. I thought Princeton Fant was a redshirt qualifier, but UT’s website has him listed as a true sophomore and not a redshirt freshman.

    Will: Maleik Gray is a guy that interests me. I think he could make a move to outside linebacker or strong safety and really do some good things on this Vols defense. He’s kind of in between those two positions, so I think he needs to bulk up and get some time as a 3-4 linebacker.

    “How fast do you run the 100 yd. dash?” – Bob

    Nathanael: Will is a former track athlete. I’m not even going to take a guess at how fast I can run because his time will just embarrass mine.

    Will: Ok well I was a loooong distance runner. So really not that much faster than the average person. I would finish practice at 28-30 seconds for a 200 back in the day at 75% effort. So I’d say maybe somewhere from 12-13 seconds? Speed was not my thing. I was an endurance guy who thrived in longer distances.