Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tennessee Wins John Fields Lottery

There is big news out of Tennessee that you probably haven't seen reported anywhere, but that could affect the Final Four participants in 2011:

John Fields has decided to take his services to Tennessee. He had graduated from UNC-Wilmington in four years while using only three seasons of eligibility, which allowed him to head to another school for graduate school and to play right away, without having to redshirt a year like a standard transfer.

I actually missed this story when it first happened, which was more than a week ago, because it went completely under the radar. But this is a huge story, and I'll tell you why:

John Fields is a name that you don't know unless you are a big fan of the Colonial Athletic Association or are a hardcore college basketball fan. UNC-Wilmington was an atrocious team in 2009-10, finishing in a tie for 9th place in the Colonial at 5-13. But the one bright spot was John Fields, who was an absolute monster in the paint. According to Pomeroy he was in the Top 50 in the nation in offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding and defensive block percentage. And 80th in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. UNC-Wilmington was atrocious in every offensive category, except for offensive rebounding, and Fields led the way with 3.1 per game. He's very long and very athletic, which means he fits in perfectly with Bruce Pearl's team.

Tennessee was already going to be very long and athletic at the frontcourt positions. They return Scotty Hopson, Cameron Tatum, Brian Williams, Kenny Hall and Renaldo Woolridge. They also bring in Tobias Harris, who is considered by some rating services (such as as the top power forward in the 2010 class, as well as Jeronne Maymon, a very talented 6'7" transfer from Marquette. They aren't quite as deep at the guard position, but should still be strong. Melvin Goins is very good, and will likely have Skylar McBee starting along with him. Josh Bone is a talented backup, and Steven Pearl is a great hustle and energy presence off the bench. Jordan McRae and Trae Golden are two shooting guard recruits coming in, with McRae more likely to play a big role as a true freshman.

The SEC is going to be pretty weak in 2010-11, with Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida being the only sure NCAA Tournament teams. I initially previewed the conference in April, and wrote more about the conference in May. I projected Tennessee as the narrow favorite to win the conference over Kentucky, their only serious competition. And I awarded them a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament bracket. Fields, with his ability to clean up the mistakes of others on defense, and his ability to dominate the boards on offense and defense, is that small piece that could push Tennessee over the top to their first ever Final Four.

Some have questioned the decision of Fields to head to a team that is already so deep at the forward position, since he's going to have to share time with so many other talented players. He was offered a starting position at Xavier, Miami and Rutgers. But he's taking less playing time because he senses a real chance to do something special. With only one year of eligibility left, it's a very understandable desire.

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