For the first time in what feels like forever, Vol fans have a reason to care and be passionate about basketball again.
Tennessee’s men’s basketball team is off to their best start in seven years during Rick Barnes’ third year as head coach. The Vols are 7-1 and just cracked the top 20 in the AP Poll by coming in at No. 20 in the rankings. That’s the highest the Vols have been ranked since they were as high as No. 7 in the country back in 2010 during the 2010-11 season.
Attendance is up from this time last year as well, and that trend will only continue.
The Vols’ game against No. 7 North Carolina that’s coming up on Sunday, December 17th is officially a sellout. That’s the first time a Tennessee basketball game has sold out since the Vols hosted No. 1 Kentucky back in February of 2015. And it will be the first top 20 match-up inside Thompson-Boling Arena since No. 19 Tennessee hosted No. 2 Kentucky on February 27th of 2010. The Vols won that game 74-65.
Vol fans haven’t had much to cheer about since the end of the Bruce Pearl era. Cuonzo Martin was able to get Tennessee to a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2014, and that was a big highlight for Tennessee basketball. But unfortunately for the Vols, that was one of only a few bright spots over the last seven years.
Tennessee went 145-61 under Pearl and made the NCAA Tournament every year he was head coach. They also had their most successful NCAA Tournament run in program history under Pearl, making it to the only Elite Eight in school history in 2010.
Since Pearl was fired after the 2010-11 season due to NCAA issues, the Vols have made it back to the NCAA Tournament just once, and that was in Cuonzo Martin’s last year when they made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Tennessee has gone just 110-92 since Pearl coached his last game with the Vols (not including this year’s 7-1 start) and that includes a 47-51 mark the last three seasons prior to this year.
The Vols’ men’s basketball team hasn’t had much to cheer about over the last few years. Tennessee’s three-year run the last three seasons has been the worst span of Vol basketball since the Buzz Peterson days. But this Vols’ basketball team is off to the best start in seven years. And they aren’t just beating weak opponents either.
Tennessee owns wins over three teams inside the top-100 of the RPI, and that includes a win over a ranked opponent in Purdue in the Battle 4 Atlantis. They also played Villanova, who is now the No. 1 team in the country, to a close, tough game in that same tournament.
This Vols basketball team is good. And for the first time in a long time, Vol fans are finally excited about Tennessee basketball again.