The University of Tennessee’s men’s basketball program is preparing for a new season after having one of the best years in school history.
Last season, the team finished the year 31-6, the first time the Vols have won 30-plus games, since Bruce Pearl’s 2007-08 team led by Chris Lofton won 31 games. The Vols also reached the pinnacle ranking of the No. 1 team in the country for four straight weeks, for the first time since Tennessee defeated Memphis in 2007.
Like that 2007 team, last year’s team saw their season come to an end after reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. The similarities between the 2018 team and the 2007 team are very close. Both teams had multiple players that led the way for the team. In 2007, the Vols had Chris Lofton and Tyler Smith leading the way and in 2018, Tennessee had Grant Williams (2x SEC Player of the Year & NCAA unanimous All-American) and Admiral Schofield leading the team.
Tennessee also had point guard Jordan Bone and center Kyle Alexander who were impactful for the Vols last season. After the NBA Draft wrapped up, Tennessee lost Williams, Schofield, Bone and Alexander to NBA rosters. This was obviously a big blow to Tennessee’s roster, but the Vols have talented players returning and talented players making their first appearance as freshmen.
After finishing the season ranked No. 6 in the AP Top 25, let’s fast forward to October of 2019 when the Associated Press released its preseason top 25 list. The formerly No. 6 ranked Vols were left completely out of the top 25 and here’s why.
Michigan State is No. 1 in The AP Top 25 men’s basketball preseason poll with 60 of the 65 first-place votes. No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 Kansas also received first-place votes.
Full poll: https://t.co/xXlGQKLkGZ
Tennessee’s leading scorers throughout the 2018-19 season were Williams and Schofield (aka Peanut Butter & Jelly). Now that they are both playing in the NBA, that leaves a big question mark to where the Vols will turn for the majority of their scoring. This season, Tennessee returns guards Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner who can both be impactful on offense, but it’s unclear if they can be as productive as Grant and Admiral. The Vols also welcome in five-star freshman guard Josiah-Jordan James from South Carolina, who is expected to make an immediate impact.
The Vols have other players that have joined the team that have the potential to have a big impact on the team, but no one truly knows if how they play in practice will translate to the game floor. Tennessee also added Victor Bailey Jr. from the Oregon Ducks and seven-foot center Uros Plavsic (still unclear when he will be eligible to play) from Arizona State by way of the transfer portal. The Vols also added freshman guard Davonte Gaines and freshman forward Olivier Nkamhoua. These players are all players with great potential, but the only one that is fully expected to make an immediate impact is James.
This would be one of the biggest reasons why I could see the Associated Press leaving Tennessee out of the preseason top 25. There are many questions that have to be answered as the season progresses. However, the Vols have every opportunity to get themselves into the top 25 this season because they play six of the AP Top 25 teams (Kentucky, Kansas, Memphis, Florida, LSU and Auburn). So, I can see why the AP decided to keep the Vols out of the preseason top 25, but I don’t agree with it.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Tennessee is coming off one of the most successful seasons in this program’s history. The Vols were undefeated at home last season, and at SEC basketball media days, 28 men’s basketball players were asked by reporters from The Athletic to describe the toughest place to play and the majority talked about how hard it was to focus in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Now I’m not saying that having a loud crowd or even a great arena should get you into the top 25, but finishing 18-0 at home is impressive and deserves more consideration. I personally do not believe that the Vols are deserving of a top ten ranking because all of the talent they lost, but after winning 31 games, one would expect to see that team in the top 25.
Regardless of how much talent Tennessee lost, the Vols deserved to have a spot somewhere between 15 and 25.
However, Tennessee won’t have to wait long to prove themselves worthy of a spot in that ranking as they will take on Florida State in the Emerald Coast Classic on the day after Thanksgiving (if they win they will face No. 23 Purdue or No. 25 VCU), and then they will host their revived rival No. 14 Memphis on Dec. 14. The Vols will also have the opportunity to get revenge on Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Jan. 25.
The result of last year’s season was far from what Tennessee wanted to achieve, but a 99-94 overtime loss to Purdue in the Sweet 16 does not warrant the Associated Press leaving the Volunteers completely out of the rankings.
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