Buzz Peterson isn't worried about the numbers. Tennessee welcomes back six players with at least 10 starts and more than 80 percent of its production in every major statistical category.
What Peterson is stressing is leadership, and he believes junior point guard C.J. Watson is the man for the job.
"This team should win 20 games and be in the NCAA tournament," said Peterson, who enters his fourth year looking for his first NCAA bid at UT. "We've got the depth, we've got the size, we've got the point guard and we've got the athleticism. But somebody has to step up and take a leadership role. There were times last year in the locker room at halftime when you couldn't tell if we were up 20 or down 20."
Peterson said the leadership will continue to start at the top. He'll invest fewer hours into film study and spend more time meeting with players throughout the season.
FRONTCOURTBrandon Crump is the go-to man in the paint. An agile 6-foot-10, 255-pounder, Crump's smooth as silk when his game is on. Peterson hopes the four-year starter turns it on more often. At times, Crump seems reluctant to take over. "Brandon has everything; it's all right there for him," Peterson said. Crump, who averaged 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds last season, figures to draw less attention with the presence of fellow forward Andre Patterson.
Patterson led the Pac-10 in shooting (60.8 percent) as a sophomore at UCLA before transferring to Tennessee and sitting out last season. "He's 6-7, but he plays like he's 6-9," Peterson says. "He's a quick leaper."
The Vols turn to sophomore Major Wingate when they want to get physical. Wingate, who started 15 of the last 16 games last season, is a reliable defender whose offense improved over the summer.
Stanley Asumnu and Jemere Hendrix are a valuable pair of frontline options. "If Stanley could take his game up a notch, it would be huge," Peterson said. "Defensively, he's one of our best."
Hendrix, meanwhile, is counted on when the shots don't go down. The athletic 6-8, 226-pound Clemson transfer enters his second season with the Vols looking to increase his court time and contributions. Hendrix ranked second on the team with 180 rebounds despite starting just 14 games. Senior Justin Albrecht is a steady forward who provides valuable minutes and can handle the ball when needed.
BACKCOURTThe savvy Watson puts things in motion for the Vols with slick ball-handling and solid decision-making skills. Watson breaks most presses with ease, and he shot a team-leading 41.1 percent from three.
Senior Scooter McFadgon figures to score points by the bushels. McFadgon possesses a sweet touch that enabled him to break the UT mark and finish fifth in the nation with a 91.2 free-throw percentage. He also ranked fourth in the SEC in scoring last season (17.6 ppg), his first year in the league after transferring from Memphis. Still, he is not a finished product on the offensive end. "Scooter has got to make people work harder to guard him," Peterson said. "He's got to run them off screens and be more active."
Sophomore Dane Bradshaw gives the Vols another ball-handler and provides a scrappy kind of defense that makes the Memphis native a crowd pleaser.
Tennessee expects to get a lift from incoming freshman Chris Lofton, who was Kentucky's Mr. Basketball last season. Likewise, freshman Jordan Howell is ready to contribute after redshirting last season. "Lofton can light it up, and Howell is a good shooter with good passing skills," said Peterson.
FINAL ANALYSISThe Vols look like a contender on paper, but the game is played on hardwood. Peterson is pounding the leadership issue in response to Tennessee's pathetic 0-8 record last season in SEC road games.
Watson's ability to set the tempo, both on the court and from a psychological standpoint, will be paramount to the Volunteers' chances for success. In Crump and McFadgon, Tennessee has a great foundation for the necessary inside-out game. Throw in Watson's ability to hit the trey, the arrival of Patterson and the presence of some athletic complementary players, and the Volunteers could challenge in the East.