The Vols snuck up on people during the 2017-18 season and were one of the biggest surprise stories during the season. Tennessee went from being picked 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC to winning a share of the regular season conference title, making it to the SEC Tournament final, and earning a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee’s basketball team shocked people this year. But they won’t be sneaking up on anyone next year.
Unlike this past season, the Vols will have plenty of expectations to live up to in the 2018-19 season. The Vols return everyone but James Daniel III from their roster this year for next season, and they’ll likely be one of the three or four favorites to win the SEC next season.
The 2017-18 season is almost over. The NCAA Tournament Final is tonight, and after that game it will officially be the offseason for every college basketball team across the country. And although we’re still half a year away from the start of next season, one publication has already comprised their way-too-early preseason top 25 for next year. And Tennessee found themselves inside the top 10.
Sporting News released their way-too-early preseason top 25 in men’s basketball on Monday, and Tennessee not only made it inside the top 10, but they were second only to Kentucky among SEC teams.
The Vols placed No. 8 in the very early preseason rankings, and Sporting News believes Tennessee belongs there because of the roster continuity from this year’s surprising squad.
“The Vols stunned pretty much everybody this season, and they return pretty much everyone next season, including SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams,” Sporting News says. “When you return everyone from a team that earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, that’s a top-10 team.”
Tennessee had the SEC Player of the Year, SEC Sixth Man of the Year (Lamonte Turner), and SEC Coach of the Year (Rick Barnes) this season. And both players and the head coach will be with Tennessee next season as well.
Mississippi State (21st), Florida (16th), LSU (13th), Auburn (11th), and Kentucky (3rd) are the other SEC teams to make the preseason top 25. Kansas edged out Duke for the No. 1 spot.
The highest the Vols have ever been ranked in the AP Poll to start the season was when they earned the No. 7 ranking in the country prior to the 2007-08 season. That season would go on to be one of the most successful years in Tennessee history. The Vols won a school record 31 games that year, reached No. 1 in the country for a week, and made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee has only been ranked inside the top 10 of the preseason AP Poll four times. They were ranked No. 7 in 2007 and earned the No. 9 spot in 2000, 1998, and 1975.
Time will tell where the Vols ultimately begin the season ranked. But one thing is clear: Expectations for next year’s team will be monumentally different than they were this season.