Week 14 NFL power rankings: Packers remain at No. 1, but several teams on rise

Setting fair expectations for Tennessee basketball's Kennedy Chandler this season

Joe Sullivan
Special to The Tennessean

The pressure is immense on Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee basketball's talented freshman point guard.

In Sunday’s telecast of the Tennessee-North Carolina game on ESPN, analyst Fran Fraschilla, not normally one for hyperbole, compared him to Chris Paul, an NBA player who will probably be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Then the network displayed a graphic showing tweets from NBA stars Trae Young and Ja Morant encouraging Chandler.

For the most part, Chandler has played very well for a freshman, averaging 14 points and five assists and displaying a calm demeanor. He’s shooting 48% from the field and has made 8 of 12 3-pointers and all eight of his free throws.

If he finished the season with statistics like that, as much pressure as it creates, the comparisons to Morant and Paul as freshmen are legitimate. Morant averaged 12.7 points and 6.3 assists. His job was mostly to set up veteran Murray State teammates Jonathan Starks and Terrell Miller. Paul averaged 14.8 and 5.9 on a Wake Forest team with five double-figure scorers.

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Young was an aberration in his one year at Oklahoma, a comet streaking across the sky, averaging 28.3 points and 8.7 assists. As good as he is, Chandler is not Young, and despite his obvious talent, especially his quickness while handling the ball, his season will be filled with mostly good and some bad play. Hopefully, for Vols’ fans, the bad will decline as the season progress.

Chandler and his Vols’ teammates faced their first two truly challenging games this past weekend at the Hall of Fame tournament in Connecticut. For both, it was a split.

Villanova’s strong team defensive commitment gave the Vols plenty of problems in a 71-53 loss. While not the only Vol to play poorly, Chandler didn’t do well, scoring six points on 1-for-9 shooting with three rebounds, two assists, three turnovers. He showed maturity by moving forward when he was mostly terrific in Sunday’s impressive victory over North Carolina. He finished with 14 points, eight assists and five rebounds.

His best plays were setting up his teammates for good shots – many on some old-fashioned pick-and-rolls, but he also hit two of three 3-pointers. There were still some mistakes. In one great sequence, he hit a three, then deflected the ball that led to a layup, but on the next possession he dribbled directly into a turnover. It’s going to be that way for a little bit.

At times, coach Rick Barnes played Chandler with fellow freshmen point guard Zakai Ziegler, giving him two ball-handlers on the floor at the same time. It’s still early but it didn’t seem to suit Chandler. He’s better with the ball in his hands.

What we know for sure is Chandler is heading to an excellent freshman season; Vols fans should hope outsized expectations don’t somehow turn that into disappointment.

Another freshman: Forward Will Richard has forced his way into the starting lineup at Belmont. “Will plays like he belongs, because he does,’’ said Belmont coach Casey Alexander. “It’s remarkable to think about, a group coming back that’s so experienced and we’re throwing a freshman out there starting in his fourth game.

"You can see he’s got a lot of potential, … plays with a lot of energy, gives us an edge.’’ A 6-foot-5 forward from Fairburn, Georgia, Richard is averaging 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds and has connected on five of 11 3-pointers, giving the potent Bruins another scoring threat.

Defense, defense: Memphis has been piling up some outstanding defensive statistics. The Tigers hold opponents to 33%  shooting and have blocked 44 shots in four games. Highly regarded freshman Jalen Duren has 19 blocks alone. After a 90-74 loss to Memphis, Saint Louis coach Travis Ford was amazed by the speed and size of the Tigers. ''It's really hard to simulate what they do,'' he said. ''I've watched both games they played multiple times, and I'm thinking now that didn't do me much good because that (type of play) is a whole different deal. Those guys fly around.''

Ironic point guard play: If it’s not irony maybe it’s humorous or befuddling, but it strikes me weirdly that Kentucky coach John Calipari had to repurpose a player from Georgia to finally get some good unselfish guard play. Sahvir Wheeler is averaging 8.5 assists per game. Poor Tom Crean, he’ll never get Georgia to be a legitimate basketball school if he keeps losing players like Wheeler. Cal’s other big transfer, center Oscar Tshiebwe from West Virginia, is averaging 13.8 points and 16.8 rebounds. Cal’s playing the transfer game well

Winning is like love: Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner is obviously an emotional man. This is what he said after beating Georgia: "Anyone that knows me, man, I just love every win. If I could hug wins, I would hug ’em. Literally hug ’em. Like, a win’s not a physical thing, but if I could hug a win, I would hug ’em. That’s how I feel about winning."

The unknown lottery pick: Patrick Baldwin Jr., a 6-9 forward, projects as an NBA lottery pick, but you won’t be seeing much of him because he decided to play for his father, the coach at Milwaukee of the Horizon League. His father loves his son but he’s mostly thinking about Ws and Ls. ''It's not about me showcasing Patrick to NBA teams, and Patrick knows that,'' Baldwin Sr. said. ''He'll be the first one to tell you that, that it's not about him. We have to be better for him and he has to be better for his teammates. If we're looking at anything other than that, then shame on us. ... This isn't about who's sitting in the stands and who has credentials.''

Games I’m looking forward to seeing this week:

  • Thanksgiving week has become a gluttonous binge for men’s college basketball fans, there are games from noon to after midnight all week.  The best games will be in the Maui Invitational (being played in Las Vegas), the Battle for Atlantis and the Disney World Tournament.
  • Belmont gets its chance at national recognition in Orlando, Florida. The Bruins open Thursday night against Drake, a tough opponent and a possible NCAA Tournament team. There’s also the possibility of playing Alabama, Dayton, Miami and maybe even Kansas (although the Jayhawks are on the other side of the bracket).
  • Defending national champion Baylor is the top team at the Battle 4 Atlantis, but the Bears will have to contend with Arizona State, VCU or Syracuse and maybe Michigan State. Look out for Loyola-Chicago in this one.
  • In the Maui/Vegas event, it’s set up for a possible Houston-Oregon championship game.

Joe Sullivan can be reached at josephsullivan1974@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan