Cuonzo Martin’s first Tennessee team is full of unknowns.
Even the team’s most experienced player, senior guard Cameron Tatum, inherits a new role as the squad’s most likely go-to player and leader.
First-year starters Trae Golden, Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon and Kenny Hall all enter the year as talented, but unproven players.
In addition to the roster turnover, a new coaching system and style are adjustments that will take time. This team doesn’t have that luxury with games against Duke, Pittsburgh and Memphis before starting SEC play.
Despite facing an uphill battle with lower expectations, the Vols will be a team other schools don’t want to play. Martin brings a hard-nosed coaching style to Knoxville with very physical practices that emphasizes defense, and that will translate into lower-scoring, grind-out games.
The biggest issue facing the Vols will be scoring points. Tatum has to step up and become a consistent double-figure scorer, and the other starting guards, Golden and McRae, have to find a way to be productive against quality teams for UT to reach its seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament.
If they don’t, it could be a long year for Martin’s Vols on Rocky Top.
Prediction: 15-15 (6-10 SEC), NIT Second Round
It’s been four years since the Lady Vols played in the Final Four.
Expect that to change this season with what Pat Summitt called her most versatile team at Tennessee.
Led by the trio of Shekinna Stricklen, Glory Johnson and Meighan Simmons, the Lady Vols should once again find themselves in prime position to raise another banner in Thompson-Boling Arena when the NCAA Tournament arrives in March.
Summitt schedules the toughest opponents year-in and year-out to prepare her team for postseason play, and this year’s non-conference slate includes Baylor, Texas, UCLA, Stanford and Notre Dame.
The early-season big games will provide an idea of where UT stands against the other elite programs in the country, and regardless of how those games go, the Lady Vols will be announced as a top seed on Selection Sunday with a clear path to the Final Four in Denver.
The addition of freshman point guard Ariel Massengale should be the spark the Lady Vols need to get over that “final” hump and win a national championship.
Prediction: 27-2 (16-0 SEC), National Champions
Basketball Season Predictions: Matt Dixon, Sports Editor
Published: Fri Nov 11, 2011