Josh Richardson

Kevin Punter

Tennessee senior guard stepping forward as a leader for new head coach Rick Barnes

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After spending 17 seasons in Austin as the head coach at Texas, Rick Barnes will coach his first season at Tennessee this winter. The good news for Barnes from a personnel standpoint is that many of the key contributors from last season are back in Knoxville, including five of the team’s top six scorers.

The negative: the lone player who isn’t back is versatile guard Josh Richardson, a second-round pick of the Miami Heat who led the Vols in scoring, assists and steals and ranked third on the team in rebounding.

So while Barnes works to establish his culture within the program he’s also faced with the task of accounting for the many ways in which Richardson kept last season’s team competitive in spite of turmoil surrounding then coach Donnie Tyndall. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, one player who’s helped from a culture standpoint this summer has been senior guard Kevin Punter.

 

“(Punter’s) work ethic, the way he’s handled things, I told Shembari (Phillips) today, I said, ‘If you’re smart, you’ll hitch your wagon to Kevin, and every time he’s in here you should want to be with him,'” Barnes said. “When you’ve got a guy that’s willing to put that much time in and show that much passion, that’s something you want to develop in your program, and you hope it’s handed down through the years.”

Punter, who averaged 10.3 points per game in his first season at Tennessee, has been the team’s hardest worker and serves as an example for the program’s five newcomers. That quintet includes three perimeter players in Phillips, Lamonte’ Turner and Admiral Schofield. Setting the tone for those players this summer is especially important, as they’ll be asked to be leaders after Tennessee’s four scholarship seniors (Punter, Armani Moore, Devon Baulkman and Derek Reese) move on at the conclusion of this upcoming season.

With Richardson out of the picture Tennessee has a void in its primary playmaker role, one that Punter will be asked to help fill. Whether or not he can do so won’t be learned until the team starts playing games, but at the very least he’s been a good leader for this group during summer workouts.

Tennessee is going to a new starting point guard

Tennessee v Xavier
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Coming into its first season under head coach Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee had big questions about the starting point guard position. The team lost of all their lead guards from last season and Tyndall wasn’t able to land a natural floor leader in the spring.

There were thoughts that junior college guard Kevin Punter could come in and attain the role, but he’s more natural off the ball and is wired to be a scorer. So the team has gone to an unlikely source as its starting point guard early on: senior 6-foot-6 guard Josh Richardson.

Richardson played as a shooting guard for the Volunteers the last three seasons, but according to a report from Steve Megargee of the Associated Press, Richardson is playing as the team’s current starting point guard.

“I’m comfortable,” Richardson said to Megargee. “I feel like I can get the ball up the court any time I want to.”

Tennessee opened its season on Monday against Pikeville in an exhibition contest and Richardson scored 15 points, dished five assists and had three turnovers in the team’s 80-62 win.

The senior actually became the team’s point guard by chance. Richardson injured his right wrist a few weeks ago and practiced without a real ability to shoot. So he became a facilitator, and in-turn, the team’s point guard.

“So I said, ‘Coach, I’ve just got to play point guard today and pass,’ ” Richardson said to Megargee. “Since then, I’ve been playing it predominantly.”

I’ve got to say, I’m anxious to see this experiment for myself. I always liked Richardson as a third or fourth option as a scorer, but as a point guard? That’s intriguing. Richardson stepped up his play in the NCAA Tournament last season, averaging 19.3 points per game during the Volunteers’ Sweet 16 run.

As the only player on Tennessee returning who averaged more than five points per game last season, Tyndall needs Richardson to step it up this season. Returning sophomore Robert Hubbs III can play along with Punter off the ball and Tennessee’s offense can go from there.

No. 11 Tennessee overpowers No. 14 Mercer

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No. 14 seed Mercer had cinderella written all over them.

They were a senior-laden team led by a fiery coach bursting with personality and a bench that featured at least one guy that can flat out dance.

They were fun, they were easy to root for, and they were a No. 14 seed.

But on Sunday, we found out why they were a No. 14 seed, as Jarnell Stokes almost outrebounded the entire Bears roster in an 83-63 win for No. 11 Tennessee. He finished with 18 boards to add to 17 points and five assists while Mercer grabbed 19 rebounds as a team. The Bears cut the lead to single digits on a couple of different occasions in the second half, but the outcome was never really in doubt.

The Vols are on their way to the Sweet 16 where they will take on No. 2 Michigan in Indianapolis on Friday night.

The best player on the floor for Tennessee was Josh Richardson, who continued his terrific play this tournament by dropping 26 points on 9-for-13 shooting. He’s now averaged 19.3 points in Tennessee’s three tournament games, and is 20-for-28 from the floor since missing his first five shots against Iowa.

Tennessee is going to have their work cut out for them. The Wolverines are streaking right now and they’ll put Tennessee’s massive front line in tough spots defensively. Stokes or Jeronne Maymon will likely end up being forced to guard Glenn Robinson III, who is going to get drafted at some point to be an NBA small forward. The Vols will have a clear advantage in the paint, however, which likely means that whoever is able to take advantage of that mismatch will likely end up advancing.

It’s funny when you think about it.

Tennessee fans wanted Cuonzo Martin fired. Now he’s off to the Sweet 16 after winning a trio of games in the first week of the Big Dance.

Tennessee lands a come-from-behind OT win over Iowa in play-in game

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Jordan McRae led four scorers in double figures with 20 points and Jarnell Stokes added 18 points and 13 boards as No. 11 Tennessee overcame a horrendous start and a 12 point first half deficit to beat No. 11 Iowa in the final play-in game on Wednesday night, 78-65, in overtime.

The difference maker for the Vols was actually Josh Richardson, who finally sparked some life into Tennessee when he hit five straight shots in the second half. Richardson scored 13 of his 17 points in the final 15 minutes of regulation, a stretch when it looked like Iowa was getting ready to pull away. He also set up Antonio Barton for a three that gave the Vols the lead.

It was a huge win for head coach Cuonzo Martin, who has been under siege by Tennessee fans unhappy with the team’s performance. There was an online petition circulating to try and get Bruce Pearl hired again that accumulated 36,000 signatures. The angst of the good folks on Knoxville only grew worse when Pearl was hired by Auburn on Tuesday. Hopefully, this win can put some of that to rest.

Tennessee will advance to take on No. 6 UMass in the Round of 64, which is a game that the Vols can win. UMass has a ton of length and athleticism, but they don’t have the kind of bodies in the paint that Tennessee does. Contain star guard Chaz Williams, avoid turnovers and pound the ball into the paint and they’ll have a chance to play on Sunday.

Adam Woodbury led the way for Iowa with 16 points and eight boards as he hit Stokes with every post move that he had in his arsenal. Peter Jok added 10 points off the bench as well. Those two combined to shoot 12-for-16 from the floor. The rest of the Hawkeyes? They shot 28.6% from the field, which included a 3-for-15 night from Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa’s star guard. As a team, they missed their last eight shots and were outscored 14-1 in overtime, ending a season that saw Iowa go just 2-7 in games decided by five points or less and choke away a handful of big leads in marquee games.

Head coach Fran McCaffery got a solid dose of perspective on gameday, however. His son, Patrick, had surgery to remove a thyroid tumor in his neck. On the broadcast on TruTV, McCaffery said that the surgery was believed to be a success.