NASHVILLE, Tenn. —There could be times when there are “four or five freshmen on the floor” for Tennessee this season, and Coach Rick Barnes indicated that’s a positive.
“I’ve seen some major changes in guys since they walked through the doors in June,” said Barnes, whose Vols were 15-19 last season, his first as Tennessee’s head coach.
“These young guys are eager and hungry,” Barnes said Wednesday at the SEC Basketball Tipoff at Bridgestone Arena. “We don’t talk about rebuilding; we’ve got a challenge and we’ll meet it head on, (and) we weren’t going to make any excuses for these young guys.”
It’s a good thing: The Vols were picked 13th out of the league’s 14 teams in the SEC preseason media poll, with none of the players on the first or second-team.
Barnes said Tennessee fans will see as many as nine new faces that haven’t played at UT before, including Nashville’s own Jordan Bone, who has his sights set on the starting point guard position.
“Ever since I was 9- or 10-years-old, I knew this was the place I wanted to be,” said Bone, whose older brother, Josh, was a defensive stopper on Bruce Pearl’s NCAA tournament teams. “We know we have an athletic group.”
That’s what Barnes is banking on, and that’s probably why he’s so optimistic.
“We have a group of guys who have bought into the culture,” Barnes said. “We think we’re further along than we were this time a year ago.”
Grant Williams a 6-foot-7, 235 pounder from Charlotte, N.C., looks to be one one of three freshmen who could start along with Bone and combo guard Lamonte Turner.
Senior Robert Hubbs and sophomore Admiral Shofield are other early projected starters on the wings, though Barnes made it clear nothing has been settled.
Bottom line, Tennessee’s second-year head coach believes the Vols need to find their way to the top of the SEC quickly.
“We’ve got a lot of built-in factors that are there to be successful, and we have to do our part,” Barnes said. “We have a chance to be as good as any program in the league; you look at our arena and fanbase.
“We should be there with the best of them.”
Tennessee will certainly have an opportunity to prove its worth, as its pre-SEC schedule includes a trip to the Maui Invitational where it will play Wisconsin (Nov. 21) and either Georgetown or Oregon (Nov. 22).
A Dec. 3 home game with Georgia Tech is the Thompson-Boling Arena highlight of the non-conference portion of the schedule, with a trip to North Carolina scheduled for Dec. 11 and a Dec. 18 game back here at Bridgestone Arena against Gonzaga.
Here’s a look at Tennessee’s schedule
(some games have been assigned TV coverage and start times)
Nov. 3 vs. Slippery Rock (exhibition) in Knoxville
Nov. 11 vs. Chattanooga in Knoxville
Nov. 15 vs. Appalachian State in Knoxville
Nov. 21 vs. Wisconsin in Maui Invitational, 2:30 p.m. ESPN2
Nov. 22 vs. Georgetown or Oregon in Maui Invitational
Nov. 23 TBD Maui Invitational
Dec. 3 vs. Georgia Tech in Knoxville
Dec. 6 vs. Presbyterian in Knoxville
Dec. 11 at North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., 5 p.m. ESPN
Dec. 13 vs. Tennessee Tech in Knoxville
Dec. 15 vs. Lipscomb in Knoxville
Dec. 18 vs. Gonzaga in Nashville, 4 p.m. ESPN2
Dec. 22 at East Tennessee in Johnson City
Dec. 29 at Texas A&M in College Station, 9 p.m. SEC Network
Jan. 3 vs. Arkansas in Knoxville, 6:30 p.m. SEC Network
Jan. 7 at Florida in Gainesville 5:15 p.m. ESPN2
Jan. 11 vs. South Carolina in Knoxville 6:30 p.m. SEC Network
Jan. 14 at Vanderbilt in Nashville 8:30 p.m. SEC Network
Jan. 17 at Ole Miss is Oxford, 9 p.m. SEC Network
Jan. 21 vs. Mississippi State in Knoxville, 6 p.m. SEC Network
Jan. 24 vs. Kentucky in Knoxville, 9 p.m. ESPN
Jan. 28 vs. Kansas State in Knoxville, 2 p.m. ESPN2
Jan. 31 at Auburn in Auburn, 9 p.m. SEC Network
Feb. 4 at Mississippi State in Starkville, 3:30 p.m. SEC Network
Feb. 8 vs. Ole Miss in Knoxville, 6:30 p.m. SEC Network
Feb. 11 vs. Georgia in Knoxville, 4 p.m. ESPNU
Feb. 14 at Kentucky in Lexington, 7 p.m. ESPN
Feb. 18 vs. Missouri in Knoxville, 1 p.m. SEC Network
Feb. 22 vs. Vanderbilt in Knoxville, 6:30 p.m. SEC Network
Feb. 25 at South Carolina in Columbia, 1 p.m. SEC Network
March 1 at LSU in Baton Rouge, 7 p.m. SEC Network
March 4 vs. Alabama in Knoxville, 1 p.m., SEC Network
March 8-12 SEC Tournament in Nashville, ESPN family of networks