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Tennessee Freshmen Developing Important For Home Stretch Of Non Conference Schedule

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

After playing top 20 KenPom teams in five of its first nine games, Tennessee basketball faces a tame four-game stretch to close out non conference play.

Tennessee hosts Georgia Southern on Tuesday night before traveling to San Antonio to face an average North Carolina State team. The Vols then return home for matchups against Tarleton State and Norfolk State on either side of Christmas.

The Vols enter the home stretch of pre conference play with an eight-man rotation and looking to find consistency from freshmen to become a deeper team. That starts with practice as head coach Rick Barnes has emphasized the need for improved preparation from that group.

“Well, one, we have to do — everybody on this team, their part. There’s no guarantee that those guys will get in and have the opportunity to play,” Tennessee assistant coach Gregg Polinsky said Monday. “I mean that’s all dependent upon, like coach talked about for the Illinois game, what they do in practice, have they earned their minutes? That’s where you earn your minutes. And second, do we play well enough or find time periods or lineups where these guys can get in there, get some experience and excel.”

Tennessee currently plays with the 25th fastest pace offensively and the 309th fastest pace defensively nationally. Expending more energy on the defensive end of the court emphasized the need for Tennessee to find consistency and another reliable rotation player from its freshman class.

Freddie Dilione IV, Cade Phillips, Cameron Carr and JP Estrella are the Vols’ four freshmen looking to make a push into a consistent rotation role by conference play.

Phillips, perhaps the least offensively talented of the group, feels like the most likely option. Tennessee is thin inside and the 6-foot-9 power forward plays tough and does all the little things coaches want from a role player.

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“You have to be willing to understand that your job has to be simplified,” Tennessee assistant coach Rod Clark said last week. “It’s not about scoring. It’s not about you making a home run play. We know that every time Cade’s going check in, he’s gonna play really hard. He’s going to defend, he’s going to be physical and that’s his floor right there. If he does anything above that, it’s great. We’ll take it.”

Dilione can make the home run play and bring Tennessee another legit scoring option off the bench. The redshirt freshman is definitively the most talented scorer of the freshman class and is one of the more talented offensive players on the team.

But the combo guard has battled a foot injury early in the season which has limited his opportunities. He also needs to become a more consistent defender if Barnes is truly going to trust him when SEC play begins.

“Freddie right now just has to get in the groove, get more time,” Clark said. “We have to have him understanding that, like, defending every possession is a big deal. That’s what we need from him. And I mean, you guys have been at practice, man. When Freddie really locks in and pays attention to that side of the ball, he’s a high level defender. It’s a matter of him understanding that your attention span can’t lack when you get to that end of the floor.”

These next four games, and particularly the three against small schools, feel like Dilione’s last chance to prove he deserves a rotation spot, barring injury.

Carr and Estrella seem like the two least likely to claim a rotation spot on this team. However, the opportunity is there for either player to claim it. Particularly Estrella due to the previously mentioned thin front court.

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