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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Why the sudden pessimism in recruiting the last few days concerning Russell, To’oto’o, and even Wright?” – Scott
Nathanael: I wouldn’t look too much into the pessimism around Darnell Wright. That’s just some late cycle jitters from fans. I would be shocked if he didn’t sign with Tennessee. As for the other two: We’ll see. The battle to land To’oto’o is far from over, and that will go all the way up till National Signing Day. The Chris Russell situation went from an orange tint to a Texas A&M flavor real quick. If he doesn’t take his official visit to Knoxville this weekend, then the Vols are pretty much out of it. UT’s coaches did go in-home with him on Wednesday, though.
Ben: Because Tennessee isn’t trending well with Chris Russell or Henry To’oto’o. The Vols are still in the driver’s seat with Darnell Wright, but as far as Russell or To’oto’o, it looks like Tennessee is going to strike out with both. I would be surprised if To’oto’o doesn’t go to Washington and if Russell doesn’t go to Texas A&M.
“Chances that Aubrey Solomon is granted NCAA waiver to play immediately? God knows we need depth at D-Line like LeBron needs courtside wine.” – Colton
Nathanael: I think Tennessee and Solomon are pushing for it pretty hard, but I would be a little surprised if he ends up being eligible this season. I wouldn’t be absolutely shocked, but I think the chances are greater that he doesn’t qualify than he does.
Ben: What Nathanael said. Tennessee is hoping for the best.
“Do you foresee us bringing in any more notable coaches?” – @hesenij
Nathanael: On the field, I’m not sure. A few weeks ago, I thought we would see another coach or two leave the staff after NSD, but now I’m not so certain. But with a few off-field assistants leaving for other programs (John Lily, Montario Hardesty, Tino Sunseri, Shelton Felton), I do think you see Pruitt bring in some pretty interesting names for off-field analysts/assistants. In fact, they just brought on someone today in an off-field role who used to work with Jim Chaney at Pitt.
Ben: I wouldn’t rule it out, but I think the staff is set for now. As we’ve been saying on the Swain Event for weeks now, Tee Martin is going to coach the wide receivers and David Johnson will likely coach the running backs with Chris Wienke coaching the quarterbacks. Johnson has received a lot of interest from other SEC schools over the last month, so I wouldn’t rule out him jumping ship following National Signing Day.
“Am I the only one that thinks John Fulkerson doesn’t need to see the court? Seem like when he’s in the game he doesn’t do much right…” – Dawson
Nathanael: I already know that Ben is going to disagree with you pretty hard on this one. I’ll go ahead and disagree with you, too. Fulkerson actually has the second-highest overall plus/minus on the team for the season, trailing only Grant Williams. That stat can be a little misleading at times, but overall Fulky does stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score. He can make some mistakes and look overall kinda unathletic out there, but he’s shooting 61.4 percent in 12.6 minutes per game and is averaging about four points and three rebounds a game. UT doesn’t need him to be a big scorer off the bench; they ask him to come in, rebound, and provide some defense. And he does that.
Ben: Yeah, I don’t think John Fulkerson should be pinned down to the bench. But I will admit, he hasn’t played all that well over the last couple of games, though he was better against South Carolina. Fulkerson isn’t going to be a guy that scores double-digits, but he’s a guy that is going to fill the box score in other areas and do things that don’t show up on the box score. He rebounds, is a good passer, can block shots, and he plays his butt off. That’s the type of player Rick Barnes loves and why you won’t see Fulkerson pinned to the bench unless he gets hurt.
“Other than Kentucky who in the SEC has the best chance to beat the Vols basketball team?” – @colon_crusher
Nathanael: Looking at the rest of Tennessee’s schedule, I’d say the games with the best chances for the Vols to lose are as follows:
- @ Kentucky
- Kentucky at home
- @ LSU
- @ Auburn
- @ Ole Miss
Tennessee should realistically win all the other games on their schedule from here on out, but those five are the ones I think pose the most problems. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Vols lose any of those games.
- @ LSU
- @ Kentucky
- @ Auburn
- @ Ole Miss
Above are the games I think Tennessee is most likely to lose. I’m not totally bought in on Kentucky being a world-beater based off close wins over teams that aren’t playing up to their potential. That’s not to say that Kentucky isn’t good, though. The Cats are most definitely a good basketball team, but I think LSU is a better team as of today. When Tennessee has problems, it’s because of the other team’s athleticism. LSU is stocked full of athleticism, and that game is in Baton Rouge.
As for Auburn, Bruce Pearl’s team is the most disappointing team in the SEC this season. I still expect them to get right come tournament time, so the Auburn game to conclude the regular season could present problems for Tennessee.
Ole Miss presents a unique challenge because the Rebels will be ready to play in a great environment. And if Kermit Davis’ squad is money from distance, Tennessee could be in for a close one.
On paper, Tennessee should win all of these games. But it’s college basketball we’re talking about, and I would be surprised if the Vols win out.