SEC Men's Basketball Media Days: A young team leaves uncertainty for the Vols

A panel of SEC and national media members picked the Tennessee men's basketball team to finish second to last in the conference's preseason poll.

Tennessee fans might have a tough time recognizing the 2016-2017 team.

It's because this year's team has nine new players.

"We've got a good group of guys," said head coach Rick Barnes on Wednesday in Nashville during the SEC men's basketball Media Days. "It's evolved into what we want to do, it's just the consistency of getting guys to do what we want them to do every single day. The consistency factor is what we're looking for."

The Vols have seven freshmen on this year's squad, with the only major returning factor being senior guard Robert Hubbs III. That, in part, played a big factor in Tennessee's rankings in the SEC preseason poll. The media picked the Vols to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC.

Tennessee finished 15-19 (6-12 in conference) in Rick Barnes' first year as head coach at Rocky Top, but he remains confident that the Vols can make the NCAA tournament this year.

"Absolutely. When you look at them, I understand how, when you have nine new players in your program that have never played at this level, what people's expectations may be on the outside, but on the inside, looking out, ours is different," Barnes said. "We expect to be able to compete every night from the very beginning."

Not everyone thinks these young players could be a detrimental to the Vols. Barnes said he could even see having four or five freshmen out on the court at a time.

Senior Utah State grad transfer, Lew Evans, said this is a special group.

"I think they're above their years," Evans said. "These guys are listening to what Coach Barnes has to say, and I think that's going to lead to a lot of success."

It's something Barnes has noticed to, an attention to detail and ability to listen that's rare in young players.

"These young guys came in eager, hungry, wanting to make an impact. Through the recruiting process, we told them they're going to have to make an impact," Barnes said. "They've bought into it and have created something that we think is going to carry us forward for a long time to come." 

The younger players will need someone to look up to, to follow someone's lead. Enter Hubbs.

"All the pressure is on me," Hubbs said. "I have to lead these guys. We're a very young team. I have to show them the ways to go about approaching games and practices and everyday being on the road. It's all on me, and I'm willing to take on that challenge."

The challenges will start early for Tennessee this season.

Barnes, Hubbs and Evans acknowledged the difficulty of their non-conference schedule. The Vols play Wisconsin, in Chapel Hill against North Carolina and at home against Gonzaga.


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