Many basketball analysts are projecting the Big Orange as a Top 10 team for the season ahead, and that expectation certainly has merit. With only Dane Bradshaw missing from last season's playing rotation, the 2007-08 Vols return 91.8 percent of their points, 86.1 percent of their rebounds, 67.2 percent of their assists, 83.3 percent of their blocked shots and 78.9 percent of their steals from last year.
Bradshaw was the King of the Intangibles and will be missed. Still, he scored just 596 points in four years at Tennessee. His successor, Tyler Smith, scored nearly that many (461) as a freshman at Iowa last winter.
Smith, who averaged 14.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game for the 2006-07 Hawkeyes, could give the Vols the firepower and athleticism to make a serious run at the Final Four. The 6-7, 220-pounder can score inside or out and provides a long-armed, quick-footed defensive presence that is a perfect fit for Bruce Pearl's trademark full-court press.
Ramar Smith is back for his second year as the starting point guard after making dramatic strides as a freshman year ago. Two seniors--All-America Chris Lofton and defensive dynamo JaJuan Smith--again man the wing positions. Lofton led the SEC in scoring last season and might be the finest three-point shooter in the college game. The perimeter reserves will be sophomore Josh Tabb, senior Jordan Howell and freshman Cameron Tatum.
Because of the frantic pace it plays, Tennessee's front line relies on mobility more so than mass. After sharing the post duties last winter, sophomores Wayne Chism (6-9, 240) and Duke Crews (6-7, 230) will be joined by incoming freshman Brian Williams (6-9, 270) this winter.
Junior Ryan Childress (6-9, 240) has the tenacity to help on the block, along with surprising touch from three-point range. He will be a key reserve at the post and power forward positions. Steven Pearl, son of the coach, is a 6-5 redshirt freshman who will earn some playing time on savvy alone.
In addition to Tyler Smith, Tennessee has another talented transfer joining the mix this season. Memphis native J.P. Prince (6-8, 210) will be eligible in January after spending undistinguished seasons at Arizona. Prince can play every position except the post, so his versatility provides Pearl with a lot of flexibility.
Bottom line: If the Vols can handle the hype, they have a chance to make 2007-08 something special.