The NCAA men's college basketball season doesn't tip-off until November, but as the summer winds down, Vol fans should be nothing short of excited for their team to hit the court.
Yes, I fully understand that football season is nigh. A lot of good things should be expected from the Butch Jones era, just not this year. But this upcoming basketball season has the potential to be something extremely special. Now if you're wondering how I could possibly be so excited for basketball when the echoes of Neyland Stadium have been calling ever since Butch Jones' hiring, I'll start with the most obvious reason—talent is abounding on this team's roster.
Not only is Jarnell Stokes returning to Knoxville after a fantastic sophomore campaign last year (Stokes recorded 16 double-doubles last year), but senior forward Jeronne Maymon, a 2011-2012 All-SEC second team performer, will also be back in the orange and white after he missed all of the 2012-2013 season due to a left knee injury that earned him an extra year of eligibility.
In my opinion, that's the best frontcourt in the SEC.
I'll admit, the backcourt does have some proving to do. Other than All-SEC first teamer Jordan McRae, the only sure thing is that junior guard Josh Richardson is going to continue to be one of the best two-way players on the team.
Armani Moore should continue to provide lock down defense, but his offensive game was far from impressive last year. D'Montre Edwards, Derek Reese and Quinton Chievous all had productive moments last year, but consistency from this bunch will be essential for a Tennessee team that is looking to return to the NCAA tournament after a two-year hiatus.
And then there are the newcomers. As the nation's No. 23 overall recruit, Robert Hubbs III will headline the class and will be expected to fulfill the lofty expectations lavished upon the 18-year-old from Dyer County.
While Hubbs is the highly-touted recruit, Darius Thompson and Memphis transfer Antonio Barton may be the most influential to the Vols' success. Both will most likely be asked to play a lion's share of the minutes at the point guard position after former Vol Trae Golden transferred from the program this summer. Junior college transfer Pops Ndiaye and freshman A.J. Davis will also look to make their mark on this upcoming season.
There's no doubt in my mind that the talent is there. This may be the best roster that Vols have had since 2007, a year where Tennessee went 31-5, won the SEC outright for the first time in 41 years and achieved the school's first ever No. 1 ranking.
But all the talent in the world means nothing though if the coaching staff can't create a plan to help this group execute and succeed. So if the talent isn't enough for you to believe, consider the fact that head coach Cuonzo Martin's seat is already a little warm. If they don't perform this year, that seat will become uncomfortably hot.
I like Martin. He has done everything you could ask him to do with the mess he was handed. And to be fair, he has gotten snubbed from at least one, if not both NCAA tournaments appearances. But if he doesn't win this year, I think it may be time for a change, especially if Stokes decides to forego his senior season.
I fully believe that this team won't be worrying if they will get into "The Big Dance," but instead will be talking about the possibility of earning a higher seed.
I'm not saying that this team is going to win a national title, reach the Final Four or even the Elite Eight, but winning the SEC Championship is definitely a possibility. And if an SEC title is on the table, who's to say those aforementioned accomplishments couldn't take place.
Crazier things have happened.
Troy Provost-Heron is a sophomore in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.