When Tennessee went on their last two deep NCAA Tournament runs, they had one player step up and play better than they had during the regular season. This season, it looks like Admiral Schofield could be that player for the Vols.
When Tennessee made their Sweet Sixteen run in 2014, Josh Richardson exploded onto the scene in his junior year. During the first 32 games of the 2013-14 season, Richardson averaged just 9.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists while shooting 44.7 percent. But once the NCAA Tournament started, Richardson blew up. He averaged 19.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3 assists, and shot 61.7 percent in the Vols’ four games in that tournament run.
The same can be said for J.P. Prince on the Vols’ 2009-10 team that made the Elite Eight.
Before the NCAA Tournament started, Prince was a solid support player who could snag rebounds and score as a solid No. 4 or No. 3 option. But once the tournament started, he became a different player. In the Vols’ 33 games prior to the NCAA Tournament, Prince averaged 9.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and shot 51.2 percent from the field. In the Vols’ four NCAA Tournament games, however, Prince averaged 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, four assists, and shot 63.9 percent.
The NCAA Tournament this year doesn’t start for another week, but it already looks like a catalyst is emerging for the Vols this season. And that’s Admiral Schofield.
The 6-foot-5, 238 pound junior forward has hit his stride over the last couple weeks and enters the SEC Tournament as arguably the hottest player in the SEC. Unlike Richardson and Prince, Schofield hasn’t waited till tournament time to explode. Time will tell if he can keep up his run in the SEC and NCAA Tournament, but right now he’s posting a similar uptick in production to what Richardson and Prince did.
For the first 26 games of the 2017-18 season, Schofield averaged 11.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and was shooting 43.6 percent. In the Vols’ last four games of the regular season, however, Schofield has averaged 22 points, 6.3 rebounds, two assists, and has shot 50.8 percent from the field.
The Vols have had the most success in the NCAA Tournament over the last decade when they’ve had a player rise up and perform significantly better than they did in the regular season. The tournament is still on the horizon for the Vols, but right now Schofield is the likeliest candidate to do just that because of how he ended the regular season. Not to mention the fact that the Vols are a perfect 6-0 this season when he scores 20 or more points in a game.
If Tennessee needs someone to spark them to a deep postseason run this season, Schofield could be just that player.