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Tennessee Basketball Entering Critical Offseason

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

With Tennessee basketballs’ 2022-23 season in the rearview mirror yesterday we took a look at the legacy of the Vols’ four four-year scholarship seniors if their college careers are done.

Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, Olivier Nkamhoua and Uros Plavsic all have one more year of eligibility but whether they will use it or not is unclear.

If any or all of them decide to move on to the next stage of their basketball careers, Tennessee basketball will be in a time of transition as all four have been fixtures of the Vols’ program over the last four seasons.

Let’s start by playing the numbers game, let’s assume all four seniors move on along with sixth-year senior Tyreke Key who is out of eligibility. The Vols have three incoming freshman who will take up scholarships. That would give Tennessee two open scholarships to work with.

Freshman Julian Phillips could easily declare for the NBA Draft and multiple Tennessee players have transferred every season since the transfer portal became prominent.

So Tennessee is going to have at least a couple roster spots to fill this offseason. It’s unclear how many scholarships the Vols will have to fill but the logical guess is somewhere between two and five.

That’s potentially a big number and would mean Tennessee has five to eight scholarship players who haven’t played a second in a Volunteer uniform on next year’s roster. Combine that with the needs Tennessee has and this is a critical offseason for Rick Barnes and his staff.

Tennessee is poised to return some nice pieces next season. Jahmai Mashack and Tobe Awaka both flashed major potential last season and Jonas Aidoo can be a dominant defensive player. However, Zakai Zeigler is the only star level player Tennessee is poised to return and he’s recovering from a torn ACL.

I’m high on redshirt freshman Freddie Dilione — who early enrolled in January and is already a strong offensive player — but Tennessee still needs to add star power before next season.

The Vols return players and add a few prep players who are capable of scoring but few have proved it consistently at the college level. That’s a new type of transfer Tennessee is looking for.

Barnes hasn’t been afraid to add transfer players but he hasn’t been all in on the portal either. The Vols have mostly added one transfer in recent years and none have truly panned out. Tyreke Key, Justin Powell, EJ Anosike and James Daniels III have been role players at best and non factors at worst after transferring to Tennessee.

The Vols need more than just role players out of the transfer portal. Barnes has talked about how he believes going all out every season and not building your roster for the future at the detriment of next season’s team. This offseason will put that philosophy to the test.

There’s a need for a sense of urgency too. I wrote yesterday about how Tennessee’s seniors from last year didn’t elevate the program to a new mark but they sustained the program as one of the best in the SEC.

That is no easy challenge and Tennessee could find that out the hard way without a strong offseason. The SEC is a really good basketball conference.

Eric Musselman is recruiting at a high level and has taken Arkansas to three straight Sweet 16s, Bruce Pearl is recruiting at a high level and has Auburn running at a high level, Nate Oats has won two outright SEC Championships in his first four seasons at Alabama, Kentucky is Kentucky and Buzz Williams has things humming at Texas A&M.

Todd Golden is a good coach at Florida, Chris Jans took Mississippi State to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, Dennis Gates looks like a rising star in the coaching ranks at Missouri and Ole Miss just hired Chris Beard. A morally bankrupt decision? Sure. But Beard is a big time college basketball coach and took Texas Tech to the National Championship game.

I just listed nine quality coaches and/or programs and that doesn’t even include the reigning SEC Coach of the Year Jerry Stackhouse or LSU’s Matt McMahon who flamed out in his first season in the SEC but was highly successful at Murray State.

If Tennessee’s program slips, there’s half a dozen teams and coaches capable of taking its spot in the top group of SEC programs.

The Vols are entering an offseason of change. Barnes needs to keep his foot on the pedal if Tennessee is going to sustain its success of the last six seasons.

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One Response

  1. Phillips declaring for the NBA? I’d say he didn’t accomplish much at the college level his freshman year. He wasn’t even a “go to” player.

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