Tennessee looked like it might be an NCAA Tournament team at the end of January this season, but a late-season swoon took away any postseason opportunities for the Vols.
With nearly 80 percent of offensive production set to return in 2017-18, the return from injury forward John Fulkerson and possibly Rick Barnes’ best recruiting class coming in, expectations are going to be much higher for the Vols in 2017-18.
It won’t necessarily be tournament-or-bust for Rick Barnes in his third year in Knoxville, but fans, and Barnes himself, are expecting the team to be more competitive. If the Vols don’t make the tournament next season, the pressure will certainly rise in the coming seasons as Tennessee looks to complete the rebuilding process after a tumultuous stretch over the past few seasons.
But don’t pencil the Vols into the Big Dance next season just yet, at least according to the way-too-early 2018 bracket that ESPN’s Joe Lundari put out on Tuesday. Perhaps helped by the success of SEC teams in the 2017 tournament, Lunardi projects half a dozen SEC teams in the tournament in 2018 – Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina – to make the field. Texas A&M is one of the projected first eight teams out.
There’s no sign of Tennessee as of now, according to the projections.
There’s no reason to overreact to tournament projections from a year away. It’s an extremely inexact science months before the tournament, much less this far out. But it is interesting to note that, while many UT fans are thinking tournament next year, ESPN’s top bracketologist doesn’t see it that way, at least as of now.
After being picked 13th in the league in 2016-17, the Vols might again have to fight for respect again in 2017-18.