With the 2020-21 basketball season fast approaching, this year’s squad should make Vol fans optimistic knowing the team has a mix of talented transfers and exciting newcomers joining a strong mix of veteran players. It seems everyone is prognosticating with high hopes concerning the team, the coaching, and especially the season outcome. But, there are no guarantees with COVID determining the future of the players, the schedule, and the attending fan base, which will be capped at 18% capacity for this season. The schedule and the number of out-of-conference games is still being finalized. The following are my predictions for the highly anticipated season:
Leading Scorer – John Fulkerson
Before last year, Fulkerson was averaging 3.5 points a game and less than 15 minutes playing time. Even then, he was a beloved figure in UT’s basketball program. The 2019-20 season saw a much improved Fulky. His minutes per game skyrocketed to 30 and his points jumped to almost 14 per game as he continued to earn the trust of Coach Barnes. Since the Senior Forward is producing at this level, I predict he will achieve even higher stats and lead the Vols to victory.
Leading Rebounder – EJ Anosike
As a grad transfer from Sacred Heart and the younger brother of Lady Vol, Nicky Anosike, who played at UT from 2004 to 2008, EJ stands 6’6” and 245 lbs. What he lacks in height he makes up for by using his big frame to gain position and out rebound his opponent. At Sacred Heart,, he averaged 4 rebounds per game his freshman year and 11.5 as a junior. I predict, if given enough playing time, Anosike should make his presence felt on the glass.
Best Defender – Yves Pons
Rick Barnes prides himself on having a team the stifles its opponents defensively, and no player on the roster better exemplifies this than Yves Pons. The Flying Frenchman has the physical ability to guard the wing and the post and is comfortable at either position. Listed at 6’6”, Pons is adept at blocking shots and was able to tie Tennessee’s single season record with 73 blocks in 31 games and won SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Pons turned down the NBA to return for one more season as a Vol. I predict Pons will continue his outstanding defensive performance.
I project the starting five will be:
Point Guard – Santiago Vescovi
Shooting Guard – Josiah Jordan James
Strong Forward – Yves Pons
Power Forward – EJ Anosike
Center – John Fulkerson
When choosing who gets the most playing time, Rick Barnes values experience which means the incoming 5-star freshman will have to earn their minutes. When Vescovi arrived halfway through last season, he established himself as the team’s “floor general”. This year he will be backed up by Oregon transfer, Victor Bailey Jr. I struggled to name a clear cut starter for Shooting Guard. Ultimately, I went with Josiah Jordan James because of the experience he would bring. However, don’t be surprised if freshman 5-star sensation Jaden Springer sees a lot of time at the SG position. Small Forward is a position that will showcase a lot of athlesticism. Yves Pons should have help at SF from 5-star freshman, Keon Johnson. Anosike should be the starter at PF. He brings plenty of experience and has the defensive and rebounding ability that Barnes loves from his big men. Finally, we have John Fulkerson at center. The fan favorite is entering his final year at Tennessee and should become one the best players in the SEC.
Expectations are high for this year’s Tennessee basketball squad and fans should be excited for what’s in store. Even when you look at the 2018-19 team and everything it accomplished, you could argue that this year’s team is deeper and more talented from a recruiting standpoint. With a tough conference slate and a date with Kansas looming on the schedule, it will not be easy. However, with this talented squad the Vols should claim its spot as one of the nation’s top teams in 2020-21.