Apologies for the not normal game preview this morning. Life has been a bit busy as of late and wasn't able to get around to creating it.
Luckily, the SB Nation network has a stable of experts on pretty much every college out there, including the Zags next opponent, the Tennessee Volunteers. We spoke with Will Shelton, managing editor over at Rocky Top Talk, about what we can expect to see from the Vols.
1) Tennessee made a big coaching splash when they hired Rick Barnes. What were the expectations coming into the season with the Vols and have they met those expectations so far?
Expectations were hard to nail down specifically; the Vols returned all major contributors from last year's team other than Josh Richardson, who was drafted by Miami and did a lot of everything for UT last season. The Vols are also on their third head coach in three years; though the situation with Donnie Tyndall was unfortunate the timing worked out well for Tennessee in being able to land Barnes. I think if Tennessee is able to duplicate last year's .500 season most would consider that a fair first year in the midst of all this transition. So far they're 5-4 with wins over all the teams they should have beaten and all four losses away from home, three to above average to great teams.
2) The Vols have made a significant improvement in reducing their turnover rate, to what do they attribute this ball security?
Some of it is playing a faster tempo that doesn't allow defenses to get fully set up, but honestly we're really surprised by it. Josh Richardson played point guard for this team last year, and his projected replacement Lamonte Turner was denied eligibility by the NCAA. So the Vols have no true point guard and are playing Kevin Punter 35 minutes a night at the position. Tennessee shouldn't be good at this at all, but coming into Wednesday's game against Florida Atlantic they were 10th nationally in fewest turnovers.
3) Tennesee runs out a pretty small lineup compared to a lot of teams, but especially Gonzaga. How do you expect the Vols to deal with Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer in the post?
Not well. Against good teams with any strength in the post Tennessee has gotten killed on the offensive glass, with some of that coming off of getting beat defensively and then getting out of position to rebound with all the help defense. Armani Moore is very strong physically at the four, but he's only 6'4". It's a match-up nightmare the Vols will try to subvert by playing fast and scoring a ton of points, which was enough to stay in the George Washington and Butler games. But this will definitely be the biggest test the Vols have faced in the paint.
4) Tennessee is 1-0 in Battle in Seattle games. What is your prediction for Saturday?
That was Bruce Pearl's most talented team that went to #1 in the country for a week after beating Calipari's undefeated Memphis team with Derrick Rose. We hope Barnes can get us back to those heights, but it won't be this year. I think Tennessee will score more than Gonzaga might expect to give up and the Vols will compete, but I also think your post players will have a much easier time than they're used to seeing against a power conference foe. I'll take Gonzaga 81-71.
5) Do you miss Bruce Pearl?
We certainly miss the consistent high-level winning, and Pearl was a three ring circus by himself that is impossible to duplicate. I don't miss the drama that continued to live in Knoxville in the years after he was fired as many fans didn't appreciate Cuonzo Martin as much as they should have and instead clamored for the impossible dream of Pearl's return. Rick Barnes has had the better career on paper, so if he continues to do what he's done in the past Pearl's memory will become our fond past instead of our present distraction.