Georgia Tech Basketball Preview: Tennessee

Sept. 29, 2017

THE FLATS – Georgia Tech and Tennessee will meet for the 72nd time on Dec. 3 in a nationally televised game at McCamish Pavilion. This is the third game of a four-game series the teams have contracted to play, and they have split the first two meetings, each winning at home. This is the eighth in a series of previews of the Yellow Jackets’ non-conference opponents.

Location: Knoxville, Tenn.
Conference: Southeastern (SEC)
Home arena: Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678)
2016-17 Record: 16-16, 8-10 in the SEC (9th)
Post-Season: Lost to Georgia in the second round of SEC Tournament, 59-57
NCAA Postseason Appearances (Last): 20 (2014)
All-time series record: 42-28, Tennessee (last meeting in 2015)
Head coach: Rick Barnes (Two Seasons)
Starters returning/lost: 4/1
Top scorer returning: Grant Williams (12.6)
Top rebounder returning: Grant Williams (5.9)

Quick preview for 2017-18

Budding youth will help Rick Barnes in his third year at the helm of the Volunteers. After leading the team in rebounding and finishing second in points and minutes last season, Grant Williams will need to continue his growth as a leader in his sophomore campaign. On the other side of the court, Jordan Bowden will enter his second year holding strong defensively after leading Tennessee in steals (27) as a freshman.

The Vols will face a few teams that will help prepare them for conference play, including the ACC’s Georgia Tech and North Carolina. UT will also participate in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, where it will face off against Purdue and Villanova or Western Kentucky. Per usual in the SEC, the teams to beat in the league remain Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina – all recording 12-plus wins in conference play. The Vols will get to host Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina, but will travel to the Razorbacks in their lone matchup for their conference opener.

Quick recap of 2016-17

Unable to shake a sluggish start to the season, Tennessee finished the year .500. With few peaks and few valleys, the Vols weren’t able to take the season to the next level by distinguishing itself in the competitive SEC any better than ninth in the league. Despite the off-and-on year, Tennessee did make it to the second round of the conference tournament, turning in gutsy performances that had to make second-year Rick Barnes feel confident in the progress of his rebuild.

Senior Robert Hubbs III was undoubtedly the leader, averaging 31.7 minutes and 14.2 points over the season – both team highs. Freshman Grant Williams was the big surprise, however, leading the team in rebounds (5.2) and finishing second in points (12.6) and minutes (25.4). Despite only playing in 15 games, Detrick Mostella also tallied double-digit numbers on offense, finishing with 10.5 points per contest in 21.5 minutes.

Greatest Program Accomplishment

Arguably the best team in Tennessee history, the 2007-08 squad went 31-5 overall and 14-2 in SEC action to be crowned SEC regular season champions. Earning a No. 1 national ranking – a first in school history – the Vols earned the program’s first 30-win season, knocking off No. 16 Ole Miss, No. 16 Vanderbilt, and then-NCAA runner-up Ohio State in the process.

Despite falling short of the national championship, All-American Chris Lofton, Tyler Smith and Jujuan Smith helped spearhead a Bruce Pearl-led program. Lofton and the two Smiths all averaged double-digit scoring performances while Tyler Smith averaged nearly seven rebounds per game. The loss of Dane Bradshaw proved costly in the Sweet Sixteen where Tennessee fell to Louisville by 19, but the team will still be one of the greatest in school history.

Greatest player in program history

One of the best players in the history of the Southeastern Conference, Hall of Famer Bernard King set the bar for Volunteers through his illustrious career. Forming “The Ernie and Bernie Show” alongside Ernie Grunfeld, King helped lead Tennessee to the 1977 SEC Championship after an impressive 22-6 (16-2 SEC) year. Hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., three-time All-American King was a star from the very start, scoring 42 points in his first collegiate game. From there, he went on to set numerous UT records, including the highest single-season scoring average in 1974-75 (26.4). He finished with 1,962 points and 1,004 rebounds, ranking second all-time in both at Tennessee.

Forgoing his senior season, King entered into the 1977 NBA Draft where he was selected seventh overall in the first round by the New Jersey Nets. Even in the pros, he continued to rack up the accolades. In 14 seasons, King was a two-time first-team All-NBA selection, Comeback Player of the Year and a four-time NBA All-Star. He led the NBA in scoring during the 1985 season (32.9) with the New York Knicks. Along with the Knicks and Nets, he would play for Utah, Golden State and Washington over the course of his career before retiring after the 1993 season.

Place to visit on campus or in the city

Located near Nashville, Knoxville residents are rarely at a loss for things to do between the two areas. But one of the cooler, in both a historical and modern sense, places to visit is the Market Square District. Dating back to 1854, the Market Square has been a huge marketplace for goods and events and today it features shopping, restaurants, theaters and gardens. When the weather’s nice, the square is filled with residents and tourists alike dining outdoors and enjoying the patios.

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