When they entered the 2017-2018 season, the Tennessee Volunteers were picked to finish thirteenth by the national media……in the SEC. Fast forward one season and coming into the 2018-2019 season that same national media has Rick Barnes’s squad ranked sixth…...in the Nation. What a difference a year makes. Well, a year, a share of the SEC Regular Season Title, the returning SEC Player of the Year, the Returning SEC Sixth Man of the Year, an intact starting lineup, and a team that is hungry from an NCAA Tournament exit that was far too soon for their taste. The fact of the matter is that the Vols are opening with their highest pre-season ranking in the history of the program, and a compelling case can be made that they aren’t high enough. These Vols are already an exceptional squad, and the expectations are rightfully through the roof coming into this season. If Tennessee stays relatively healthy, this is a team that belongs in any conversation of teams that are favorites to bring home the National Title.
Those are lofty expectations for this program, players, and staff, but there they are just the same. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at some of the different position groups for Tennessee going into the season. Perhaps the greatest strength Tennessee has going into this season is that they are one of the toughest matchups any team in the nation can draw. With their personnel, the Vols can play small, space the floor with shooters, play gritty defense with long athletes, play big, or grind teams down in the half court. Due to that versatility, some of these players will be listed in more than one group as they move depending on what the Vols choose to do. Today the players that the Vols primarily utilize as Guards are up.
Admiral Schofield 6’ 5” 241 lbs. Sr. Zion, Illinois
That Tennessee can put their stellar Senior from Illinois out on the wing, matched up on a two guard may not be right morally, but it certainly isn’t fair. At 6’ 5” 241 pounds, Schofield regularly looks linebacker driving on a skinny Guard. When he is matched up on most guards, Schofield is simply able to use his exceptional strength to move them where he wants them to go. Frankly, Schofield regularly does this to SEC Power Forwards and even Centers, a Shooting Guard isn’t much of a problem in that department. Schofield is a complete basketball player that has elevated his entire game each season has been at Tennessee, however when he is out as a Guard, his exceptional strength is often so dominant that it overshadows everything else he does.
Schofield not only possess that strength, but he knows how to use it. He can move defenders to get his own shot, take contact, shoot through it, and still make the shot. Schofield handles the ball well enough and has a high enough basketball IQ to know when he needs to put the ball on floor and drive as well as when to shoot from range. Schofield has worked on extending the range of his shots, which is lethal when paired with his ability to drive through anything unfortunate enough to be between him and the rack. Add in the advantage that Schofield gives the Vols in rebounding against most all two guards he would be matched up against, and it becomes evident why some players stepping up in the front court and allowing the Admiral to play on the wing more is exciting for Vol Nation.
Jordan Bone 6’ 3” 176 lbs. Jr. Nashville, Tennessee
In his time as a Volunteer, Jordan Bone has done something that has been difficult over the last few decades of college basketball, earn the trust of Head Coach Rick Barnes as his starting Point Guard. Barnes, who is famously hard on his point guards in particular, looks to have come to trust the Junior from Nashville to run things when he is on the floor. Bone is a pure point guard for Tennessee and his play in that role sets the tone for his teammates. More than capable of getting his own shot, especially off a drive, Bone is still looking to pass first. The commitment to get the ball moving and keep it moving coupled with being a scrappy, on-ball defender got Bone on the floor for Barnes. His ability to regularly make the right pass and score himself when that is what the opposing defense gives him has kept him there. The experience he has gained certainly helps Bone on the floor, but his unselfish attitude and court vision ensure that whichever of Tennessee’s multiple weapons is open winds up with the ball. Bone is a special combination at point guard of high basketball IQ, good size, good passing, and tough defense. He fits the smart, hard nose style that Barnes has installed at Tennessee, and he makes these Vols fun to watch when they are on the offensive end.
Jordan Bowden 6’ 5” 185 lbs. Jr. Knoxville, Tennessee
Jordan Bowden is a jack of all trades type of guard. A prototypical combo guard, Bowden can handle the ball and take it up the floor, but he can also play at the two and be a solid scoring option. Where he scores from is also balanced, as Bowden can shoot from outside or put the ball on the floor and drive. Defensively, Bowden is another of the scrappy, high pressure, high effort defenders that has length and active hands that Barnes prizes on his team. Bowden is a player that is happy to play wherever Tennessee needs him, in whatever role they ask him to fill. He is a team first player, and though he may not be a Guard that does one thing that opposing coaches game plan to take away out of fear, he is rock solid in every facet of his game. Like Bone, he also has gained valuable experience the last two seasons seeing a lot of minutes, many of them logged with Bone in the backcourt. There is obvious chemistry between the pair, and with both being so aware on the floor and capable of doing whatever is asked of them, they make for a difficult pair to defend. There are very few holes in Jordan Bowden’s game, and he is returning after another season of development. If he moves beyond that good-not-great in any area this season, Bowden could help push Tennessee to the National Title level that they are aspiring to.
Lamonte Turner 6’ 1” 183 lbs. Jr. Harvest, Alabama
Since, “Cold blooded shooter,” isn’t a position group, Turner fits in with the other Guards. The trio of Juniors all play well together, have all logged minutes together in multiple combinations, and do the things that Rick Barnes ask. The thing that singles out the reigning SEC Sixth Man of the Year is that he is offense in high tops. Bone and Bowden fit what Barnes wants to do because they both fit so well and play within the scheme and sets that he calls. They make the additional pass, make the smart play, and try to go with the play. Turner plays within the offense as well, however, he is much more willing to shoot than Bone and Bowden. For that matter, when it comes to shooting, Lamonte Turner is absolutely fearless. There is no moment too big, no situation that overwhelms him. The biggest games on the line, if the ball comes to Turner and he has a look, he is taking the shot with the confidence that he takes his next breath. Interestingly, most of his shots and breaths seem to end with a similar swishing noise. The bomb that Turner dropped to silence Rupp Arena last season was among the biggest shots in Tennessee Basketball history. On the biggest stages, Turner took the biggest shots when they ended up in his hands, and he usually made them.
To be able to bring a guy like Turner off the bench is incredible and speaks to the depth and versatility that Rick Barnes has gathered and developed in Knoxville. As alluded to earlier, Turner is one of the only options that the Vols have for instant offense. He doesn’t need a play or a scheme, he just needs a ball and a moment to launch a three. Turner is not some volume shooter throwing up shots all over the gym, he is careful with his choice of shots, but when he gets the look there is no hesitation to pull the trigger. The ability to let Turner run the offense or play at the two while some of the other starters, especially Williams and Schofield, are on the bench and score is invaluable for Tennessee. The Vols need to develop at least one more player on the bench that can simply hit the floor and score, but Turner has proved up to the task of carrying Tennessee when the called offense is flagging. For all the focus on his offensive prowess, it is also important to note that Turner is also a solid defender, very quick with active hands. He is not a defensive liability at all, he just happens to excel at burying back breaking threes, and Vol Nation loves him for it.
Jalen Johnson 6’ 7” 190 lbs. So. High Point, North Carolina
Minutes are not easy to come by behind Admiral Schofield and Tennessee’s trio of Junior Guards, especially when you have to compete for time at the wing with some of Tennessee’s Forwards as well. That is precisely the uphill battle that sophomore Jalen Johnson finds before him coming into this season. However, like many of the younger players on this Vol roster, Johnson offers something different from his counterparts that could get him on the floor. That is his height and length. At 6’ 7” Johnson is the tallest guard that Rick Barnes has at his disposal. That wingspan gives Johnson potential as a defender just as his height gives his shot a launch point that is very difficult to block. Barring injury, Johnson won’t likely seen a ton of minutes this season, but he can still develop, contribute, and help this team win. Johnson offers Barnes another chess piece if he continues to develop, and this deep and varied Tennessee bench must contribute and rise to the occasions when they are called on if the Vols want to be celebrating at the end of March.
These Vols have a lot of well-known commodities at the guard positions as they have played and won a lot of games in the SEC. Still, this entire group has now had another season to develop and get better individually and together. These guards, and the Tennessee Vols as a whole, are a team with a player somewhere on the bench suited to do complete whatever task Rick Barnes requires of them. This team has depth, experience, and versatility. An exceptionally young group last season has returned after an off season to work knowing that they have a chance to be special. The National Championship aspirations are both realistic and reasonable for this team. Watching how this team adjusts and attacks their opponents in pursuit of that goal should be fun for Vol Nation to watch.