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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Teams with good half-court offense (& obviously strong defense) typically do well in the big dance. Is this UT team the best in that regard since the 90s?” – Craig
Nathanael: It’s the best blend of the two that I’ve seen in a while, yes. Cuonzo’s teams had great defense, but they couldn’t execute well on offense until it finally came time to do so in March of 2014. That was the one time they did. Bruce’s teams usually had stellar offense, but they weren’t always as solid on defense when they weren’t full court pressing. I think this team blends the two strengths of Pearl and Martin very well. The offense isn’t as potent as Pearl’s teams nor is the defense quite as ugly/suffocating as Martin’s, but both are potentially more effective under Barnes. I really like this team when they’re playing efficiently.
Will: Cuonzo Martin’s teams wanted to slow you down and play in the half court, but they didn’t always do a great job. I think this Tennessee team is better when the game is sped up a bit. But, you’re probably right. Most of Tennessee’s teams played a really fast tempo under Bruce Pearl. And even though this team wants to get out and run, they’ve learned how to put teams away by running down the clock in the half-court set. So yes, this probably is Tennessee’s best half-court offense in a good while.
“Is Chryst going to be on campus for the spring? And who do you project will be taking snaps in place of Trey Smith?” – @_hdogg
Nathanael: To your first question, no he will not. Chryst won’t be joining till after spring practices. And in terms of Trey Smith: I’m not sure. In the spring, my guess would be maybe a split with Marcus Tatum and Ryan Johnson with the possibility of Drew Richmond trying to play there again as well. I think Richmond stays at another position, though. So likely Tatum and Johnson. In the fall, however, I think JUCO transfer Jahmir Johnson would get the snaps there if Smith still can’t go.
Will: I think Marcus Tatum and Drew Richmond will work as the two tackles during spring camp. Ryan Johnson will likely be at center with Jahmir Johnson and Riley Locklear at guard. This is a really big spring for those guys. Only having seven scholarship offensive lineman is going to be tough on the offense as a whole.
“What is TN’s easiest path through the Dance?” – @Disgruntled_Vol
Nathanael: Well, that’s tough. Without knowing who all is in and any potential match-ups right now, it’s hard to guess. But I would say if the Vols can get their opening round in Nashville, that would be huge. They would play their first and second round games (assuming they win the first) in their own state. They also need to not be matched up with teams who have a ton of interior length. That’s bother them in the past.
Will: If Tennessee gets its first two games in Nashville and can compete in the Sweet 16 in Atlanta, that’s a pretty good path. They’d likely do that as a three seed, if UT can finish better than Auburn at the SEC Tournament.
“If the Vols don’t land Anfernee Simons in this class, are they just better off not getting a player in this recruiting cycle and using that scholarship for the 2019 class?” – Sam
Nathanael: I would say yes to this. Because I don’t think they’re getting Tyler Harris, so if you can’t get either of them, save that scholarship. You’re better off using it in the 2019 class. Because aside from James Daniel graduating, your’e not really losing anyone off this team (unless someone transfers), and you don’t have any big holes to fill just yet. It would be nice to get Simons, and I think he’s the only guy they’re really paying attention to right now other than maybe Harris.
Will: I’m not so sure. Settling for another 3-star who fits the system isn’t such a bad thing. It’s worked out pretty well so far. That being said, I think Tennessee probably gets Simons. Unless he goes to the NBA, I think the Vols are the leader for him. I’ll be surprised if he goes elsewhere.
“The QB battle is getting most of the attention, but what’s the most underrated position battle for the Vols this spring/fall?” – Tom
Nathanael: I think trying to figure out who plays at linebacker and defensive end will be the most intriguing to watch for me outside of the QB battle. Because there are a lot of players who can play a lot of different positions in those respective units.
Will: I like the competition at corner. Can Tyler Byrd instantly make an impact there? Or does Carlin Fils-aime potentially earn some playing time as well? Those two guys have the speed and athleticism to earn playing time. Plus, the only player you really expect to start there is Shawn Shamburger. Every other spot is up in the air at this point.