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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Actually I have two questions…when was the last time Tennessee went through the whole season ranked in the top 10? Also, what do you think the starting 5 looks like next year?” – @GSix1987
Nathanael: It’s actually never happened before. The men’s team has never gone wire-to-wire as a top 10 team. And even if the Vols lose to Auburn on Saturday, they’ll remain in the top 10 for the final AP Poll of the season I imagine. So they have a legitimate shot at being the first team in program history to be a top 10 team from beginning to end of a season.
As for the starting five next year, that’s a good question. Let’s assume for now that both Grant Williams and Jordan Bone return for their senior seasons. They will definitely start. I think Lamonte Turner or Jordan Bowden will be one of the other starters, and I think you’ll see DJ Burns or Yves Pons start as well. John Fulkerson has a chance to earn a starting role as well. But don’t count out Josiah James from coming in and getting a starting role immediately as a freshman either.
Ben: Assuming Jordan Bone and Grant Williams return, I think we see a starting lineup of Bone at point guard alongside Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden. In the post, it’ll be Williams and John Fulkerson. So, I say Bone, Turner, Bowden, Williams, Fulkerson.
Now, that lineup is small with three guards in the starting lineup. If Rick Barnes wants more size, I think Jalen Johnson starts at the three alongside Bone and Bowden with Turner coming off the bench. I’m also 50/50 on Fulkerson starting. I know Barnes loves Fulkerson’s energy, but Derrick Walker or DJ Burns could crack the starting rotation as well.
“Will Williams and Bone turn pro or will one or both be back next year?” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: If I’m Jordan Bone, I think I stay another year because of how strong the point guard class is for this year. This year’s PG class heading into the 2019 NBA Draft is very deep, and Bone may slip into the second round pretty easily given that fact. He still has some things he needs to work on, and who better to help him develop than Rick Barnes and this staff? I also think Grant Williams returns, but I’m a little more iffy on him. I think you’ll see him do what Admiral did this past offseason and declare for the draft and get feedback from the NBA. But if he gets enough people telling him he’ll be a first-round pick, then he may go ahead and leave.
Ben: I’m convinced Grant Williams returns to school. Maybe I’m being naive, but he seems as if he really enjoys being in college and loves being a part of the Tennessee basketball program. Plus, it would give him a chance to win SEC Player of the Year three years in a row. That’s an accomplishment that only Pete Maravich and Bernard King can say they’ve accomplished. I think Williams will be the third SEC player, and the second Tennessee play to do it.
“Who wins at a neutral site: Tennessee or Kentucky?” – Evan
Nathanael: Well, we’ll probably found out here in about a week, Evan. I don’t imagine Tennessee or Kentucky will lose in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, and right now they’re slated to play each other in the semifinals. So we’ll see, and right now I think I’m siding with Kentucky if they have Reid Travis back. But it’s about as 50/50 as I could imagine.
Ben: Tennessee. They’re more experienced and have better depth. Kentucky is capable of making it to the Final Four, but I only trust Tyler Herro and PJ Washington on Cats’ roster. For Tennessee, I trust Jordan Bone, Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, and Kyle Alexander. Simply put, I think Tennessee is a better basketball team from top-to-bottom.
“Pruitt seems to be hinting at the offense pretty much staying the same as last year…do you think he will give Chaney autonomy to run the offense he wants to run or ran at Georgia? Idk about y’all but our offense was pretty predictable and easy to defend.” – Britton
Nathanael: I do think Pruitt lets Chaney act as a head coach of the offense. It’s only been one day of spring practice so far, but Pruitt was letting him do that on Thursday. This is going to be Chaney’s offense, and I think Pruitt trusts him a lot more than he did Tyson Helton. Pruitt has coached against Chaney’s offense multiple times, and Chaney has more experience than any other OC Pruitt could’ve hired. If he doesn’t let him run his offense and starts meddling like he did with Helton, then we’ll have some real concerns about Pruitt as a head coach. But I think he’s learned.
Ben: It was easy to defend because the players didn’t execute, and it was predictable because Tennessee couldn’t run a wide variety of plays because the players couldn’t execute the simple ones. Jim Chaney has full reign of the offense to do whatever he wants to do. Chaney and Pruitt’s philosophies are parallel in the sense that both want to run the ball successfully, but they also realize they have to be able to throw the football in the modern era of college football.
“Chances of a new starting qb in 2019?” – @streets_weeper
Nathanael: Very, very low. Unless either Shrout or Maurer just completely blows up this spring or fall or if Guarantano gets hurt, JG will be your starter for 2019.
Ben: Only if Jarrett Guarantano gets hurt during spring practice, summer workouts, or fall camp. Guarantano is a very capable starting quarterback when given time to throw the ball. He’s a good quarterback, and if the offensive line is improved this season, fans will see that.
“Do you think Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright will be ready to start once the season gets underway?” – Roy
Nathanael: It’s hard to project without seeing Darnell Wright on the field yet, but my gut is telling me “yes.” I think Morris will be projected as the starter at one of the tackle spots once spring finishes up, and Wright will have to fight Marcus Tatum for the other starting tackle job. My money in that case is on Wright, though Tatum does look better now that he’s had more time to add on some weight.
Ben: Yes, I do. But there’s no guarantee. They both seem like guys who work hard and are committed to perfecting their craft. Morris has already shed 40 pounds and is in much better shape, though he still has a long ways to go. For Wright, summer workouts will be crucial. Tennessee needs both freshmen to be ready to play right away.
“What’s the potential OL depth chart? – @BigOrangePruitt
Nathanael: Right now, I’d say your starters project to be Brandon Kennedy at center, Jahmir Johnson and Ryan Johnson at the two guard spots, and Wanya Morris and Marcus Tatum at the two tackle spots. Once Darnell Wright gets in, that other tackle spot will be up for grabs, and don’t count out Jerome Carvin at either of the guard positions either. Nathan Niehaus has added a ton of good weight and is being talked about a lot by coaches, so he’ll be worth keeping an eye on as well.
Ben: Not where it needs to be, but better. The offensive line has a chance to be solid and much better than last year with Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris starting at the tackle spots, Jahmir Johnson at left guard, Brandon Kennedy at center, and Ryan Johnson at right guard. Johnson has already turned heads to begin the year, and Nathan Niehaus has received a lot of praise. Jerome Carvin continues to work into shape, but that’s really it. Tennessee really needs others to step up and provide some depth.