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COLUMN: Grant Williams and the Tennessee Volunteers are the real deal



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Grant Williams of the Tennessee Volunteers celebrates after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Dec. 9 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. Williams has an overall shooting percentage of 57 percent.  Tribune News Service

With everyone’s attention fixated on Duke University's trifecta of freshmen R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish, it's easy for the University of Tennessee to go unnoticed.

While head coach Rick Barnes’ squad was ranked coming into the 2018-19 season, sitting at No. 6, there was little reason to believe Tennessee had as much to bring to table as blue bloods like University of Kansas, University of Kentucky and Duke, all ranked higher. Even the University of Virginia, who became the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed in last year's NCAA tournament, was ranked higher than Tennessee.

Yet here we are in late January, less than two months before teams find out who is selected for March Madness, and the Volunteers have cemented themselves as the best team in the country. 

Sitting at No. 1 for the last two weeks, Tennessee currently sits at 18-1 — its only loss coming on the road to an incredibly talented Kansas team in overtime back in November.

The Volunteers have many reasons to be happy about their rise to the top, including having the eighth-ranked scoring offense in the country. But the key to the team’s success has come from a trio that has proven it can hang with anyone in the country, including the Blue Devils.

Junior forward Grant Williams, senior guard Admiral Schofield and junior guard Jordan Bone have been nothing short of spectacular together this season. Williams averages 20.2 points per game, while Schofield and Bone provide 16.6 and 13.1 points per game, respectively.

The shooting percentages of Williams and Schofield have been unbelievable as well, with Williams shooting 57 percent overall and Schofield boasting a 40 percent mark from three. Bone has tallied a staggering 120 assists so far this season, ranked 18th in the country.

While the entire team has played exceptionally well, it has been the superior play of Williams that catapulted the Volunteers into the national spotlight. The junior is on watch lists for the John R. Wooden Award Player of the Year and the Naismith Trophy Men’s Player of the Year Award.

In a Tennessee win in overtime at Vanderbilt University, Williams was a perfect 23 of 23 from the free-throw line — the most free throws made without a miss by any player in Division I the last 60 years. Complementing his stellar night from the charity stripe, he scored a career-high 43 points on 10-of-15 shooting, the most by a Volunteer since all-time leading scorer Allan Houston had 43 points against Louisiana State Univeristy 29 years ago.

Averaging 31 points, 5.5 rebounds, three assists, 2.5 blocks and two steals per game last week, head coach Rick Barnes could not be happier with the production he has seen from Williams. If this keeps up, expect the Volunteers to finish this season stronger after last season’s second round exit in the NCAA Tournament.

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