There’s plenty of hype around Tennessee’s upcoming men’s basketball team this season. The Vols are coming off a surprisingly good season last year, and they return all their significant contributors from that team and welcome in a talented four-star freshman in D.J. Burns.
Vol fans are expecting big things from their men’s basketball team this season. And one national college basketball analyst is too.
In a piece previewing some of the top match-ups of the 2018-19 college basketball season, the CBS Sports team looked over some teams who have a chance to make some noise this year. And CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg went bold with his predictions for this season’s Final Four teams, picking two SEC squads to make it in. But neither of those teams were Kentucky.
“I’m throwing Florida in as a Final Four team, I’m throwing Virginia in — you know, the Cavaliers, on the heels of being the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16-seed, I think they’ll bounce back in a big way,” Kellogg stated. “And then Gonzaga, which I think has a really solid group coming back. And finally, I’m going Tennessee for my fourth team. They’re experienced, well-coached and hungry.”
The Vols, of course, have never made it to a Final Four. Tennessee has been agonizingly close once back in 2010 when they lost 70-69 to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. Otherwise, the Vols have never even advanced past the Sweet Sixteen save for that one instance.
Tennessee is coming off a year in which they were picked to finish 13th in the SEC by conference media members but instead won a share of the regular season conference title, played in the SEC Tournament Final, and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The fact that the Vols return all five starters and most of their bench production from last season as well as the SEC Coach of the Year in Rick Barnes has plenty of people expecting the Vols to make some history this year.
Kellogg also singled out a specific game on Tennessee’s schedule this year. CBS will broadcast the Vols’ regular season match-up with Kentucky in Knoxville on March 2nd, and Kellogg believes that game could have huge implications for the rest of March.
“In terms of individual games, I’ve really bulleted the Kentucky-Tennessee game,” Kellogg said. “That one jumps out at you, thinking about what Tennessee returns and Kentucky returns. It will be appointment television, and at that point in the season it could have significant ramifications in terms of the SEC race potentially and seeding.”
Last season, the Vols defeated Kentucky in both their regular season contests, though the Wildcats got the last laugh when they beat Tennessee in the SEC Tournament Final. But the Vols have won four of their last seven match-ups with Kentucky, their best record in a multi-game spread against the Wildcats since they won three of four contests from 1999 to 2000. Tennessee’s 61-59 win in Lexington last season marked the Vols’ first win in Rupp Arena since a 75-67 victory in 2006.
Tennessee’s 2018-19 men’s basketball season officially begins on Novembers 6th when they host Rick Barnes’ alma mater, Lenoir-Rhyne. The Vols will play an exhibition game against Tusculum in Thompson-Boling Arena on October 31st before the regular season opener.