Time, the hymn writer penned, like an ever-flowing stream, bears all its sons away. The summer, on the other hand, drags the college basketball fan into a seemingly never-ending doldrums of things that aren't actual basketball. Recruiting rumors swirl and the media speculates about subjects ranging from realignment to the downfall of the college sports system. Elsewhere, players head to camps, lift interminable jumpshots, and play in relatively meaningless summer leagues.
Unless you're Tennessee, in which case you invite a recruit to a cookout, lie about it, and then get caught and fired. Just another typical summer. That's all (not so) ancient history for Tennessee, but lets take a look at what to expect when the Volunteers come roaring into Cintas this season.
Cuonzo Martin, in addition to being the only Cuonzo I've ever heard of, has a distinct style, and this style is slow. At hist fastest, his 2012 UT team played at just over 65 possessions per game, barely over 200th in the nation. That's the only time in his five years of coaching that any of his teams has crested the 250th mark in pace. His best offenses have been defined by their ability to take care of the ball, but that hasn't been the case so far at Tennessee. His teams are also consistently average on the offensive glass and - with the exception of last year - take uncommonly few of their shots from deep.
Defensively, the hallmark of Martin's teams has been their inability to force turnovers. In exchange for this, they usually in the top 100 in eFG% defense and have always been in the top 100 in DReb%. They don't exactly just pack the paint, though; Martin's teams have been in the top 50 in 3PA% the last three years, only allowing opponents to get off 27.8% of their total shot attempts from beyond the arc last season. In fact, other than the aforementioned inability to force TO, Martin's defenses are generally very tough to crack.
Veteran guard Trae Golden transferred out at the end of the year, citing an illness in the family and a concomitant desire to get closer to home. He was an effective scorer (12.1 PPG) and led the team with 3.9 APG, but he was an almost thoughtless shooter, posting an eFG% of 43.1 on .383/.295/.778 shooting line. He'll be heading to Georgia Tech to play for Banners favorite Brian Gregory.
Lost to graduation is three-point gunner Skylar McBee, who shot 18 times from inside the arc and 156 times from behind it last year. He will pursue a career as a Southern colonel in Civil War reenactments, we hope. Also gone is sometimes starting forward Kenny Hall, who put up good rebounding numbers at both ends in his 19.4 minutes per game last year. Center Yemi Makanjoula was granted a release to "make a fresh start with a new program" according to Coach Martin, though it's not clear what program might want him with his fairly limited production and some off-court issues.
Returning your leading scorer is rarely a bad thing, and UT does just that in bringing back 6'5", 178-pound guard Jordan McRae and his 15.7/4.1/2.0 game line. With a .423/.355/.771 shooting line, McRae fills it up from everywhere, and the rising senior's usage rate of 26.3% led the team last year. Also coming back is 6'8", 270-pound rising junior Jarnell Stokes. The big man put up 12.4/9.6/1.3 on .528/.000/.577 last season and posted a 17.3% OReb% and a 22.3% DReb%, both top 100 in the country.
It gets kind of thin from there for the Vols, though bringing back your best guard and your best big man is a nice trick if you can pull it. About the only other returning player of note is 6'6", 188-pound rising junior wing Josh Richardson. Richardson put up 7.9/4.3/1.5 on .469/.214/.692 shooting.
While not a new arrival to the program, Jeronne Maymon will be rejoining the active roster after missing all of last year with a knee injury. Maymon transferred in after one year at Marquette but broke out in 2011-2012, averaging 12.7/8.1/1.2 on .558/.000/.658 as a junior. Maymon is a monster in the middle - something on the order of 6'8", 260 - and he will pair Jarnell Stokes to give UT an interior pair few teams in the nation can bang with. UT also added veteran guard Antonio Barton, who is joining from Memphis as an immediately eligible transfer. Barton may be asked to fill the hole at the point, but the 6'2", 178-pound senior had almost as many made threes (28) as assists (29) last year before succumbing to a foot injury that cost him playing time. Still, Barton figures to at least start the season getting big minutes in the backcourt.
Robert Hubbs, a 6'5" shooting guard, highlights the Volunteers recruiting class. Hubbs is a slasher and elite athlete who may struggle a little bit with the shooting and decision making parts of his game. That should remind you of the initial reports on Semaj Christon, and there's a chance that Hubbs' big body and elite athleticism will as well. 6'6", 180 small forward AJ Davis, son of NBA player Antonio Davis, has the game of a solid small forward packed into the body of a rail-thin guard. If Davis can bulk up a bit, his skills will play. If not, he may spend a year adding muscle and girth to his frame while riding the bench.
Darius Thompson, a 6'4" guard who shoots the three and defends well, and Rawane Ndiaye another monster in the middle, round out the recruiting class. Ndiaye, and Ottumwa, Iowa native for any MASH fans out there, stands 6'10" and weighs 270 pounds. In Martin's grind it out style, the ability to switch between monsters in the middle means that there is rarely any worry of not having someone massive on the floor to keep the pace glacial.
Tennessee was one of the teams that a good number of experts thought should have snuck into the NCAA field last year. Instead, they played an apathetic game against Mercer in the first round of the NIT and lost by eight. With plenty of talent returning and Darius Thompson capable of taking over at point guard if he adds some weight, the Volunteers look more than capable of being an NCAA team this year. Martin will keep the pace slow, try to limit mistakes, and let his young guys grow into the season as it progresses. While they won't be exciting to watch, at all, the Volunteers will be effective.