It’s basketball time in Tennessee, and the Vols are looking for their first NCAA Tournament bid since the departure of Bruce Pearl in the 2010-2011 season.
After making their second straight appearance in the NIT last season, second year head coach Cuonzo Martin believes he has his best Tennessee basketball team yet.
The Vols return eight players who contributed in the 2012-2013 season, and have added highly touted recruit Robert Hubbs III, who was ranked as the No. 2 shooting guard in his class according to Scout.com, as well as point guard Antonio Barton who transferred from in-state rival Memphis for his senior season.
While Barton and Hubbs III are new additions that are expected to contribute immediately, perhaps the biggest return for Tennessee is that of Jeronne Maymon.
Maymon, who transferred to Tennessee in the middle of the 2009-2010 season from Marquette, sat out what would have been his senior season last year due to a knee injury suffered the prior year he had yet to recover from. Last season the Vols struggled without Maymon, leaving them thin on depth in the post and forcing Jarnell Stokes to play more minutes, and more gingerly than he was used to.
Like “the big three,” in Miami, Tennessee also has an elite trio in Maymon, Stokes, and Jordan McRae.
Stokes averaged a double-double as a sophomore last season, averaging 13.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. That ranks highest out of all returning players in the nation for the 2013-2014 season.
Maymon, who led the Vols in 2011-2012, averaged 14.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game as a junior before his absence due to injury. He also led the SEC in free-throw attempts due to the physicality it took to guard him in the post.
The Vols leading scorer from last year, McRae, is ranked as the seventh highest returning scorer in the nation, and second highest in the SEC. McRae averaged 19.2 points per game last season, and really caught fire late in the season to lead the Vols in a late push for the NCAA tournament in which they fell just short of after an early exit in the SEC tournament.
McRae, Stokes and Maymon all three were named to the preseason All-SEC team. With three members they were second only to Kentucky who had five members. McRae was also named as a Lowe’s Senior Class Award candidate, while Stokes was placed on the Lute Olsen preseason All-American team.
While the elite trio of McRae, Stokes and Maymon may be the front-page material for the Vols this season, one man who shouldn’t be forgotten about is junior guard/forward Josh Richardson.
Recruited mainly for his defensive skills, Richardson provided a scoring spark for the Vols when they needed it in some of the later games of last season. Though he only averaged 7.9 points per game last season, coach Martin has been adamant in the improvement made in Richardson’s three-point, and mid-range accuracy over the offseason.
Tennessee will tip-off their season against Xavier, who they defeated in Knoxville, Tenn. last season 51-47, Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EDT on Fox Sports 1.