In case you haven’t heard, Auburn has a really big basketball game tomorrow, hosting Tennessee in a game where they look to clinch at least a share of the SEC Regular Season title. In order to learn more about the Volunteers, Terry Lambert from Rocky Top Talk joins us today to talk about Tennessee basketball. I appreciate Terry for taking the time to answer my questions and his answers are in bold below.
1. If you were to compare this year’s Tennessee team to the team led by Bruce Pearl back in 2008, which team would you say is better?
“That 2008 team was a little bit deeper, but I’d say this group is more consistent. This group has a lot more experience and have come up through the program with each other. Everyone wants to talk about Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams, but Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner have all grown up in over the last three years together. That’s why we’re so attached to this roster — it’s been the same core for three seasons now. It’s been so much fun to watch them grow into national title contenders.”
2. Bruce Pearl has been a blessing to Auburn and I think it’s fair to say that Rick Barnes has been a blessing to Tennessee as well. Barnes has brought in a bunch of under-recruited guys and developed guys like Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield into superstars. Just talk about how Rick Barnes has changed the program and set Tennessee basketball up for such a bright future?
“The player development has been remarkable. There’s literally one top 100 player in the rotation right now. The rest were under recruited three-star prospects. What Grant and Admiral have done is nothing short of spectacular. Barnes and his staff have turned them into legitimate NBA prospects. Barnes work with Jordan Bone may be the best example. The light has come on this year and he’s turned into a legitimate point guard who also may have an NBA future. Each player in the rotation right now has bought in to what the staff is selling. It’s been such a journey to get here, but the final product has been really cool to see.”
3. Tennessee, had a rough stretch in the middle of February, losing 2 games to Kentucky and LSU but have won their last 3. How did those losses help refocus the Vols as they prepare for the SEC and NCAA Tournament?
“I think it woke them up defensively. Honestly, Tennessee had a breeze of a first six weeks in conference play. They seemed to fall asleep at the wheel. Defense had been the issue all along — they were just giving up easy drives to the paint and teams were crushing them with kick out three pointers. They’ve really stepped up their defensive pressure in the last two games, putting forth their best effort on that end in back to back games. We’re also seeing Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden come out of shooting slumps, which helps.”
4. As an avid college basketball fan, I’m excited to finally watch Grant Williams play in person. When you think of other 6’7 forwards to come through Tennessee, Bernard King comes to mind. How would you compare Williams game to King’s game?
“Bernard is wayyyy before my time haha.”
“Grant is just tenacious. That’s the best way I can put it. 6-7 is probably generous — he’s probably closer to 6-5. He just outworks everyone. Grant makes some of the toughest shots I’ve ever seen from the block. He’s so crafty with his body and he knows how to draw fouls (and yes, he’ll flop from time to time). Toss in the fact that he can hit the occasional three and, well — good luck. Teams throw double teams at him all the time and he’s really learned how to make the correct pass out of those situations. Tennessee is less reliant on running the offense through him this year, but when they need a bucket, it’s landing in his hands.”
5. Most people talk a lot about Williams and Schofield but I think Tennessee’s guards are an underrated part of Tennessee’s team. How do you see the matchup playing out with Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner, and Jordan Bowden against Auburn’s Jared Harper and Bryce Brown?
“Turner and Bowden are the x-factors for Tennessee. When they’re on, nobody in the country is going to beat this team. When they’re off, the offense can really be limited to Grant or Admiral creating. Jordan Bone is the difference in this team from last year to this year. His ability to push the pace is a game changer. He seems to have a much better understanding of what Tennessee is trying to accomplish offensively this time around.”
“Again, defense has been the issue. Auburn has guards that can kill you, so each of those three will have to be locked in. Tennessee’s main liability defensively was Lamonte Turner during that streak of bad play, so that’s something to watch for on Saturday.”
6. Who’s another under the radar player that Auburn fans should know about leading in to Saturday’s game?
“Probably John Fulkerson. He’s kind of goofy and comes off looking like a baby deer learning how to walk at times, but he’s a key energy guy off the bench. When Kyle Alexander inevitably gets in foul trouble, Fulky is there to provide some minutes. He’s actually proven to be pretty active over the last few games, throwing down some put-back slams and racking up steals.”
7. Lastly, this is a huge game for both teams. Tennessee looks to share the SEC Regular Season Title while Auburn is looking to earn a double bye in the SEC Tournament while playing on their home court for the last time. Who wins, and do you have a score prediction?
“If you had asked this question last week, I would have gone with Auburn without hesitation. Now I think Tennessee has sort of found themselves defensively. I think this game comes down to the Vols defending the three point line, but with an SEC championship on the line, it seems like they’ll find a way.”
Tennessee 81, Auburn 77