Today’s opponent previews take a look at a couple of SEC programs looking to take the next step.
Countdown to Tipoff: 21 Days
2016-17 Record: 16-16 (8-10 SEC)
Head Coach: Rick Barnes (Third season)
Key Departures: G Robert Hubbs III
Key Returnees: F Grant Williams, G Jordan Bone, G Jordan Bowden, F Admiral Schofield
Top Recruits: G James Daniel III, F Yves Pons
Tennessee had about as up-and-down of a season as a basketball team can have last year. The Volunteers played one of the toughest schedules in the country, squaring off against North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon, Wisconsin, Kansas State and Georgia Tech in non-conference play.
Tennessee was a few seconds away from beating UNC, stormed back in the second half against Gonzaga and lost in overtime to Oregon. The Vols beat ranked Kansas State in the SEC-Big XII Challenge and pulled off some impressive wins in the SEC, including defeating No. 4 Kentucky.
Surprisingly, Tennessee was picked to finish 13th at the SEC Tipoff this week, which raised many eyebrows. The SEC is going to be a pretty good league this year, but Tennessee only loses one key contributor from a team which was painfully close to several impressive wins and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
I expect Tennessee to be a very good basketball team this season. Sophomore forward Grant Williams looks to improve upon a solid freshman year while fellow front court members Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander return more experience in the paint. In the backcourt, guards Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner return after a year of learning Rick Barnes’s offensive system.
In addition to the returners from last year’s team, the Vols have several newcomers that look to make an impact. Transfer guard James Daniel III led the nation in scoring at Howard during the 2015-16 season, averaging 27.1 points per game. Tennessee also adds four-star French big man Yves Pons, who can do this.
Thank you for flying Air Pons ✈️ pic.twitter.com/FeA7O0yvaE— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) October 14, 2017
Tennessee is going to be a good team. The Vols play another difficult schedule, which will give them plenty of opportunities to build a resume worthy of a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia Tech and Tennessee will be playing the third game in a four-year series, with Tech winning in Atlanta in 2015 and Tennessee taking the game last season in Knoxville.
2016-17 Record: 19-15 (9-9 SEC)
Head Coach: Mark Fox (Ninth season)
Key Departures: G J.J. Frazier
Key Returners: F Yante Maten, F Derek Ogbeide
Top Recruits: F Rayshaun Hammonds
Georgia, like Tennessee, looks to build upon a solid year and get to the NCAA Tournament in 2018.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season 18-13 before losing to Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament and falling to Belmont in the first round of the NIT, depriving us of a postseason edition of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.
UGA returns star forward Yante Maten, who was projected by Sports Illustrated to be the fourth-leading scorer in the NCAA this season. Maten was one of the top scorers in the country in 2016-17, averaging 18.2 PPG.
Georgia also adds freshman Rayshaun Hammonds, a four-star forward from Norcross, Ga., who had offers from more than a dozen Power 5 schools.
UGA does not have many good non-conference games outside of Georgia Tech, so the Bulldogs will need an impressive season in an improved SEC to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Georgia was picked to finish eighth in the conference in the preseason media poll.
UGA beat Georgia Tech last season 60-43 in Josh Pastner’s first season as head coach of the Yellow Jackets. 2017 will be the 188th meeting between the schools, with Georgia Tech owning a 101-86 all-time advantage.