Insider Mailing: March Madness is Here 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.

    “Are we building a stream of talent to maintain the success we have enjoyed this year in basketball?” – Jimmy

    Nathanael: If you’re talking about the younger players who are currently on the roster, I’ll say definitely. I really like Bone, Bowden, and Walker as centerpieces moving forward, and Grant Williams could potentially be a four-year player too. Which means you could have him for couple years after this season. In terms of recruiting, that remains to be seen. Barnes and his staff obviously know how to identify talent in guys who aren’t top 100 overall recruits, but they need a top 100 overall guy (as long as his skill set fits) if they want to make a Final Four run the next couple seasons I think. Or at least a future NBA player or two.

    Will: Absolutely. I think Derrick Walker is an All-SEC player his junior season when Grant Williams is a senior. Those two will be a force in the middle, picking up the slack for Admiral Schofield, who will have just graduated. At guard, there are a few more question marks. This is still a very young group, but Rick Barnes needs to bring in a high caliber scorer for his frontcourt. If he’s able to land five-star Anfernee Simons, then that’ll be taken care of too.

    “What are the keys to Tennessee making a Final Four run?” – Cody

    Nathanael: Guard play is the biggest thing for me. I know that’s the go-to answer for most teams once the NCAA Tournament comes, but it’s especially true for the Vols. Their guard play unlocks their play in the paint, and we’ve all seen what happens when Tennessee doesn’t have good guard play. Schofield and Williams can’t get their games going if Bone, Bowden, and Turner are all off. Tennessee needs at least two guards a night to have B to B+ games in order to make a deep tournament run like that. And they need them to do it every game.

    Will: Kyle Alexander. He’s the key to this team taking the next step. I’ll venture to say that if he has a double-double, Tennessee can beat anyone in the country. And if the Vols limit their turnovers, get him the ball inside and stay out of foul trouble, they’re a legitimate threat to make the final four. Those are all very big “ifs,” but things look to be trending in the right direction at the moment.

    “Admiral Schofield’s offensive game has really taken off the past week or so – I think in part by him not settling for long shots from outside the arch. What’s been the biggest difference you’ve seen in his game?” – Craig

    Nathanael: I think you nailed it there. He’s not settling any longer. Admiral is getting much more aggressive, choosing his shots better, and taking a variety of different shots. His issue has always been when he just turns himself into a jump shooter. Schofield has a good jump shot, but he has many more tools at his disposal too. He’s finally stopped settling and has taken the initiative when Williams gets double teamed.

    Will: You’re exactly right, Craig. He’s getting nice penetration inside, and he finishes well through contact also. Schofield needs to continue to be in attack mode. When he is, he’s exceptional.

    “What do you think of Keller Chryst? Good fit? Looked at his stats, didn’t see much that wowed me. Wasn’t he benched for another kid at Stanford?” – Mark

    Nathanael: I wrote about that earlier today actually. I think Chryst has the ability to be a Day One starter for UT, but I also know he’s not going to light it up or be an immediate play-maker for the Vols. He’s not guaranteed to win the starting job either, but I think if nothing else, he brings experienced depth that Tennessee desperately needs.

    Will: He’ll take care of the ball. Chryst had 19 TDs and six picks, which is what this team needs. The Vols need a game manager who knows a pro style set. I think it’ll be a really tight quarterback competition all offseason.

    “What would it mean for CJP’s career at UT to beat Florida this year?” – Sam

    Nathanael: That kind of win in his first year cannot be overlooked. Will Florida be a great team this season? Probably not, no. But if Pruitt and the Vols can get a win in Neyland against the Gators and fellow first year head coach Dan Mullen, that would buy Pruitt some immediate equity with fans.

    Will: Beating Florida is big for any coach at this university. That would certainly be a great start.

    “When should we expect to see Pruitt start getting some commits?” – Anthony 

    Nathanael: Pretty soon would be my bet. They had a big Junior Day event last weekend and are having another this weekend. I think by the time the Orange & White Game happens, the Vols will have added a couple commits. They may even pick up a commit or two during the game.

    Will: I’d say around July or August. That’s when things usually seem to pick up.