In: G Trae Golden, F Tobias Harris, G Jordan McRae, G Tyler Summitt, F John Fields (gradute student transfer), Jeronne Maymon (transfer), F Rob Murphy (transfer)
Out: F Wayne Chism, G Bobby Maze, F J.P. Prince
The last thing Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl wanted to deal with in the offseason was another scandal. After he suspended four players in January after they were hit with drug and gun charges, a quiet, trouble-free period would have been just what the doctor ordered.
Then in August, the school announced the NCAA was investigating its recruiting practices and admitted that Pearl had lied during the course of the investigation. Tennessee took action against Pearl and his coaching staff, reducing pay and restricting the staff's ability to recruit. But as details emerge, the program remains in disarray. Athletic Director Mike Hamilton made it known that he wants the Volunteers to be known for their top-notch basketball program and not for off-the-court errors, but with the NCAA findings at least another month away, focus may be at a premium.
However, If the Volunteers can put everything behind them and zero in on basketball, they have an excellent chance of competing for an SEC title. From top to bottom this team may be the deepest Pearl has even coached at Tennessee, and his freshman class, led by five-star recruit Tobias Harris and four-star recruits Trae Golden and Jordan McRae could see plenty of playing time from game one.
Junior Scotty Hopson will be expected to shoulder more of a scoring role this season, and has spent his summer preparing for the added workload. Hopson, already one of college basketball's most explosive players, played with the U.S. Select Team and also spent time in skill camps and training academies led by LeBron James and Paul Pierce.
Melvin Goins established himself with superb play in the tournament last year and will look to continue that trend and act as team leader as he runs the point for the Volunteers. He'll act as mentor to Georgia High School Player of the Year Trae Golden and try to hold him off as Golden pushes for playing time.
Tennessee's most improved player heading into the 2010-11 season seems to be senior center Brian Williams. In early practices, Williams has been more dominant in the paint, which the team will need in the absence of departed senior Wayne Chism, who led the team last year in points and rebounds.
Four of the starters who began the season last year are gone. But Pearl utilizes a deep bench and has proven efficient at getting players ready for action quickly. He'll need every bit from the bench players last year who will step into starting roles and should be able to turn a vaunted recruiting into a trio of impact players early in the year.
Most Important Player: Tobias Harris enters his freshman year at Tennessee considered the top power forward among first-year college players. He was a McDonald's All-American and will immediately step into the starting five for the Volunteers. Harris will play the "point-forward" position, an area of great need for Tennessee. His strong scoring skills and ability to crash the boards make him a pivotal player and a key to Tennessee's success this year.
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Best-Case Scenario: The freshman trio are as good as advertised and Hopson can step into the all-around best player that Tennessee needs him to be. New starters surge from the beginning of the season and Pearl continues to build his bench, creating a deep team that can make a run past the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
Worst-Case Scenario: Deep doesn't necessarily mean great and the Volunteers don't live up to expectations because no one serves as team leader. Both Hopson and Harris have talent, but neither may be ready to take the helm of a legitimate SEC contender. If another scandal were to shake the school, this basketball team likely wouldn't be able to recover.
FanHouse Prediction: Another trip to the Big Dance is inevitable for the Volunteers and by the time March Madness rolls around this team should be firing on all cylinders. This team may not win the SEC championship, but they could go as far as any SEC team in the postseason. A Sweet Sixteen appearance should come easy – advancing a round, maybe two more is even possible. Just because taking a stance is more fun, we here think Tennessee finishes third in the SEC East and makes it to the Elite Eight.