Tennessee men's basketball is on the rise.
After the Bruce Pearl debacle of 2010, the Volunteeers have been through several ups and downs, but with head coach Cuonzo Martin at the helm, the Vols are looking pretty solid.
One year into Martin's new system/style of coaching, the team is confident in their roles and ready to prove themselves on the court.
Trae Golden, Jarnell Stokes, Yemi Makanjuola, Jordan McRae and Jeronne Maymon are just a few names from the Vols' stellar lineup this season. The Vols only have two true freshmen, guards Armani Moore and Derek Reese.
Redshirt freshman Quinton Chievous looked pretty solid in his first on-court appearance during the team's Victory University exhibition game. He was the leading scorer, along with McRae, combining for 30 of the team's 99 points.
Fans can plan on the Vols putting up numbers they haven't seen in a while. Though unranked in preseason polls, Martin's coaching style and his emphasis on defense should put a stop to the opposing offense and give Tennessee more upsets than one would imagine. That, combined with an offense that doesn't back down, gives the Vols a chance to surprise their skeptics.
Unfortunately, the Vols may be overhyped due to recent issues with other Tennessee sports. Fans have turned their attention from football to basketball, setting their hopes on things to come.
The question remains whether the basketball program is ready to carry that burden. Fan's may be disappointed if the Vols don't perform to their standards.
While the team is focusing to do everything in their power, the expectations set on the Vols by their fans may be more than they are capable of living up to.
Predictions: 18-12 (10-8 SEC) NCAA Second Round
Tennessee's women's basketball is ranked No. 20, which, for the Lady Vols, is unacceptable.
Granted, they have four incoming freshmen and one transfer sophomore. Granted 38-year head coach and eight-time National Championship winner Pat Summitt stepped down earlier this year.
But first-time head coach Holly Warlick sees the preseaon ranking as a challenge. She sees it as a bump in the road that she is ready to demolish.
The Lady Vols ran away with their exhibition games and there doesn't seem to be any concern on the home front.
There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Holly Warlick is the woman for the job. She's capable and qualified and no one refutes her claim to Summitt's throne. Even players said there wasn't much difference in her coaching style.
The only difference might be a faster paced offense/defense, but that can only be a positive.
The Lady Vols basketball team is one of the few shining spots in UT athletics and Warlick isn't going to let that slip. She's gonna keep the program in top shape.
Unfortunately, the team has a very difficult season in their future and their isn't much breathing room. Between conference threats like North Carolina and teams like Texas, Baylor, Stanford and Rutgers waiting to pounce the Lady Vols has a lot to live up to.
The few returning upperclassmen, Kamiko Williams, Taber Spani and Meighan Simmons will have to take on major leadership roles and the incoming freshmen will have to learn quick. Warlick won't accept anything less.
Predictions: 17-13 (8-2 SEC), NCAA Eight Round
Assistant Sports Editor
Cuonzo Martin has raised hopes on Rocky Top after an impressive first season by taking a team that most thought were bottom dwellers in the SEC to second in the conference. People are believing in the second year coach.
Tennessee returns the core of their lineup, including Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon down low and Trae Golden at the point, so the adjustment period of last season is a none issue this year.
It's easy to forget that Stokes came straight from his high school halls and stepped onto the floor against the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats in his debut. Stokes has now had an entire offseason to train and get in shape for the college game. The coaching staff is impressed with how much his game has developed and how dynamic he has become with an off season to train.
Freshman Armani Moore and junior college transfer D'Montre Edwards will both contribute this season and give the guard position more depth. By bringing in Moore, Martin will be able to keep Josh Richardson at the wing instead of using him as the utility guard. This will help Richardson be more comfortable on the wing and have a point guard who can give Golden a break when it's needed.
The schedule is also much easier than the 2011 year. The Vols still travel to face Big East foe Georgetown, host Xavier and No. 17 Memphis, but compared to a season ago when the Vols faced Memphis twice, Duke and Pittsburgh the road to the postseason is clearer this season.
The Vols will play both SEC newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M. The Aggies will struggle in the conference this year, but the Missouri game in Knoxville on March 3 should be good judge of where the team stands headed into postseason play.
Tennessee proved a lot of people wrong last year and this team should be better than the last. They know where their points are going to come from and most importantly they play defense. Expect Tennessee to be near the top of the SEC this year.
Prediction: 20-10 (12-6 SEC), NCAA Second Round
Pat Summitt is no longer at the helm of the Lady Vols program but that is no cause for alarm. Holly Warlick was at the side of Summitt for 27 years and has made the transition from the Hall of Famer as seamless as possible.
That being said the Lady Vols lost five seniors from last season, including three WBNA first round draft picks. That's going to hurt any program, but Tennessee is Tennessee.
As usual the Lady Vols have one of the toughest schedules in the nation, facing Texas, National Champion Baylor, Final Four team Stanford and Rutgers in a two week period. These games will test the young team and give fans a gauge on where they stand midway through the year.
Seniors Kamiko Williams and Taber Spani will be relied upon heavily and the ability of Spani to be consistent from behind the arc will be key for the Lady Vols if they are going to be successful this season.
Warlick will also need junior Meighan Simmons to take the next step in her game as a more consistent scorer game-in and game-out. Simmons has shown she can take over a game but emotions have been able to get the best of the guard at times.
The biggest key to the Lady Vols success will be the impact the four freshman and sophomore transfer Jasmine Phillips will have this year. There is no question they will have to play, but in order for Tennessee to keep its level of sustained success they will need to adapt to the college game quickly. The group of freshman - Bashaara Graves, Andraya Carter and Jasmine Jones - are highly touted and are the three to look for. Graves, Carter and Jones ranked No. 5, No. 21 and No. 39 on the ESPN 100 Rankings respectively. They have the talent, they just need to show it.
Prediction: 16-12 (10-6 SEC) NCAA Sweet Sixteen
Hope springs eternal on Rocky Top, as the Vols Basketball team enters this season with an optimistic outlook to return to their winning ways following a marked improvement in the second half.
Last season's midseason improvement and this year's optimism can all be attributed to sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes and his size 20 Adidas.
After graduating high school early, Stokes was able to join the Vols in late December and nearly propelled them to a birth in the NCAA Tournament.
This year, Stokes, who shined as a member of the USA Basketball Men's U18 National Team, will be looked to as the rock from which this team will build their success upon.
The men's team, however, will not be a one man show. Joining Stokes down low is the burly Jeronne Maymon, who stole the show in the Maui Invitational Tournament. Maymon is an undersized four who uses every bit of his 6-foot-6-inch, 270 pound frame to out-muscle opponents to the rim or for rebounds. In the offseason, Maymon stated that he has been working on his jump-shot, so as to not only improve his versatility, but to also give defenses one more thing to worry about when the ball is in his hands.
On the perimeter, the Vols will be led by a trio of experienced guards who all have a knack for putting up points in bunches.
The point guard position will be held by junior Trae Golden, who plays the game with a more point-scoring mentality, but also has shown the capability to dish out assists when needed. Many of those assists will be fed through either the mercurial junior Jordan McRae, who can on one day look like the second-coming of Vincent Yardborough in college and on others like the second-coming of Vincent Yardborough in the NBA, or fan-favorite senior Skylar McBee, whose range stretches out to somewhere near the Dominos' stand in concourse 104.
Coach Cuonzo Martin also is blessed with a deep bench, where seniors Dwight Miller and sophomores Josh Richardson and Yemi Makanjuola will look to garner a big chunk of the minutes.
Prediction: 22-8 (12-4 SEC) NCAA Tournament Second Round
This season for the Lady Vols will be filled with a lot of firsts, but none will be bigger than when new head coach Holly Warlick steps onto the court for the first time as head coach against the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. For nearly four decades the Lady Vols were led by the nearly infallible Pat Summitt, but with her retirement last spring, Warlick now stands as the first new women's basketball coach here since the Ford administration in the 70s.
To the average fan, this year's crop of Lady Vols resembles their coach — they're fresh faced, untested and unproven. While this year will see an entirely different starting line-up from the SEC Tournament team, many of those supposedly "new" pieces are actually proven veterans, who should easily step in to start Warlick's legacy off with success.
At the point, sophomore Ariel Massengale will be looked to hold down the team and guide it smoothly through Warlick's offense, which is nearly the exact same as Summitt's though more up-tempo. While Massengale started over 20 games last season, she will need to improve on her decision-making skills, as she had a poor assist-to-turnover ratio.
Massengale will have ready targets on the wings in the oft-injured, and yet uber-talented senior Taber Spani, who can score in buckets, and fellow junior Meighan Simmons, who can drive to the basket nearly at will on any defender.
At the post, the Vols will be led by a trio of talented underclassmen in sophomore Cierra Burdick, and two freshman, Bashaara Graves and Nia Moore.
The SEC is in for a down-year, and Warlick is a much more experienced coach than people will give her credit for. This team will exceed the expectations of their preseason ranking.
Prediction: 21-8 (10-6 SEC) NCAA Sweet Sixteen