The Washington Huskies are preparing for a showcase game in Toronto on Saturday afternoon (Seattle time) as part of the Naismith Classic. In order to learn more about Washington’s opponent we chatted with Terry Lamber at Rocky Top Talk about Tennessee’s program and what Husky fans can expect from this upcoming game.
UWDP- Rick Barnes is coming off consecutive years of taking Tennessee to a top-4 seed in the NCAA tournament but openly flirted with taking the UCLA job before his buyout became too big of an impediment. How beloved is Barnes in Knoxville considering he took two very under-manned teams from a recruiting rankings perspective and turned them into SEC title contenders (plus has parlayed that success into landing three 5-star recruits in the 2019/2020 classes)?
RTT- That entire week was a tough one, because Rick has resurrected this program the right way. It was a gut-punch to see him flirt with UCLA, but thankfully he was able to stick around. It would have been a devastating loss because he’s really just started to get rolling recruiting at Tennessee. He’s signed three five-star guards and a top 40 wing over the last 14 months, so things are really starting to look up for Tennessee.
It was funny to see the offers flow in from various restaurants and businesses around town during his flirtation with UCLA. Knoxville really didn’t want to have to start over from ground zero again — luckily that wasn’t the case. It’s a tough deal to follow Bruce Pearl with how beloved he was here, even being the third guy down the line. But Barnes has really settled in here. He may even be better today than he was during the Texas era.
UWDP- The Vols lost two of the better players in program history after last season in 2x SEC PotY Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield as well as starting point guard Jordan Bone and starting center Kyle Alexander. What were internal expectations for the team’s performance coming into this season without those 4 guys?
RTT- Most had Tennessee as a middle of the road NCAA Tournament team, but that probably took a hit when the NCAA ruled 7-1 center Uros Plavsic ineligible. Tennessee is left pretty small up front and very dependent on a couple of senior guards. The good news is that those senior guards have literally seen it all at this point and are ready to step into lead roles. I think that key senior leadership along with Barnes’ staff will be good enough to keep Tennessee on the right side of the bubble for most of the year.
UWDP- True freshman 5-star Josiah Jordan-James was billed as a 6’6 pure point guard but he has seemingly struggled to integrate so far as he’s 7th on the team in shot attempts despite playing the 4th most minutes with more turnovers than assists. What has been the issue(s) so far for Jordan-James and what are the chances he’s able to have his first breakout game against Washington?
RTT- It’s been injuries so far for James. He missed a lot of camp and returned just in time for the season to begin. He’s lacking some confidence right now, which is understandable considering he’s kind of learning on the fly. His shot just doesn’t look at that great right now, but he’s impacting the game with his court vision and ability to rebound. He’s just not really a scoring option right now for Tennessee. I’d expect him to be a lot more comfortable by the time SEC play rolls around.
UWDP- Outside of Jordan-James this is a veteran team with 5 upperclassmen heavily involved. Which of the breakout performances have been most impressive between Jordan Bowden (18ppg, 67% 3pt), Yves Pons (17ppg, 3.5bpg, 67% 3pt), and John Fulkerson (9.5ppg, 9.0rpg)?
RTT- Without question it’s Yves Pons. We knew Jordan Bowden had this ability, but we didn’t know Pons could do what he’s doing. This is a guy that couldn’t even find the floor last year because he was such a liability offensively. He just brought nothing to the table outside of the ability to throw down a highlight reel dunk. He’s a totally different guy this year because he’s playing in a role.
Barnes moved him from the three to the four this year out of necessity and he’s really popped. He’s an elite athlete — I guarantee you’ll see him do a couple of things on Saturday that will make your jaw drop. He finally seems like he’s putting it all together, playing with confidence and really adding another layer to the Tennessee offense. We’ve been waiting for this for two years, so it’s really awesome to see him turn this corner.
UWDP- This appears to be PG Lamonte Turner’s team as he’s averaging a double double with assists through the season’s first 2 games. What kind of player is he and what makes him so dangerous?
RTT- Lamonte is a fearless, cold-blooded killer. This is a guy that wants the spotlight and will go get the ball in big moments. On a team with Grant, Admiral and Bone last year, Turner was the guy they turned to when they needed a bucket at the end of the game. He’s beaten Kentucky twice now with a couple of last second three pointers. He’s a streaky shooter that runs hot and cold, but when he’s on, he can really fill it up. We saw a new side of him against Murray State this week, though. His shot wasn’t falling so he went full facilitator mode and racked up 14 assists. That’s a huge positive development early on.
I’ll also add that Jordan Bowden is just as important as Turner. He’s the primary scoring option for Tennessee and easily the best shooter on the team. He willed the Vols back life against Murray State earlier this week, so keeping tabs on him will be vital for Washington.
UWDP- Just like Washington, Tennessee has started out slow in both of its first two games before pulling away with big runs in the 2nd half. How do you see this game playing out and what’s your prediction for a final score?
RTT- I’ve got Washington in this one. I think their size will give Tennessee issues, especially considering how the Vols are kind of still finding their way after Plavsic was ruled ineligible. Tennessee really hasn’t been tested down low just yet, so I’m interested to see how they handle Stewart and McDaniels. I will say though, Bowden and Turner can absolutely fill it up. Those two are capable of beating just about any team in the country — it’s just tough to say what Tennessee will get out of the rest of its roster right now.
Washington 72, Tennessee 68