Jay Williams, Dick Vitale Pick Vols as Final Four Team

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    Tennessee’s men’s basketball team has already set a few program records this season. And two prominent college basketball analysts believe the Vols will make more history later on this season.

    On Saturday’s College Gameday on ESPN, host Reece Davis asked his panel of college basketball analysts which program in the top of the rankings currently has the best chance of making the Final Four later in April. And two of the four panelists picked Tennessee.

    “I’m going with Tennessee, riding a 15-game win steak,” Jay Williams said in response to Davis’ question. “Nobody on that team is a freshman that has scored a point this season. They’re a team of veterans. Experienced. Jordan Bone is averaging 6.5 assists per game. They have one of the top frontcourts in the nation. I love the way this team is built.

    “They’re the class of the SEC, and I see them getting to the Final Four.”

    But Williams wasn’t the only panelist to pick the Vols.

    Dick Vitale agreed with Williams, stating that Tennessee is his Final Four pick as well because of their experience. But he also pointed out Duke and Gonzaga as teams that could make it there along with the Vols.

    “I just love the experience factor,” Vitale stated. “Grant Williams is a money player. (Admiral) Schofield can flat-out play. Great guard play. I like their winner’s mentality. I like their experience. You can make a case for Gonzaga, Duke. Supremely talented. Duke has three guys that might go in the Top 5 of the NBA draft.

    “Tennessee is my team to go the Final Four.”

    The other two analysts, Seth Greenberg and Jay Bilas, picked Gonzaga and Duke, respectively.

    “Tennessee is really good, but we’re going to forget about Gonzaga because they’re off the beaten path,” Greenberg explained. “They have the most versatile frontcourt in college basketball. They can play fast, they can play slow, and they can change their defenses.”

    The Vols and Bulldogs played each other earlier this season, and Tennessee toppled then-No. 1 Gonzaga by a score of 76-73 on a neutral court in Phoenix, Arizona. But at the time, Gonzaga was without seniors Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall due to injury. Tennessee was without Lamonte Turner for that game as well, though.

    Tennessee’s men’s program has never been to a Final Four before. The closest the team has gotten came back in 2010 when the Vols made it to the Elite Eight and fell 70-69 to Michigan State in that game. The Vols ended up just two points short of their first Final Four appearance ever that year, and they haven’t made it back to even the Elite Eight since. Tennessee made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 2014 under Cuonzo Martin, but they lost to Michigan 73-71 thanks to a controversial charge call on Jarnell Stokes late in the second half.

    As a program, Tennessee has made it to seven Sweet Sixteens and just one Elite Eight. Last year, the Vols earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament but got taken down in the second round during Loyola-Chicago’s Cinderella run. The 11th-seeded Ramblers beat Tennessee by a score of 63-62 and wound up making it all the way to the Final Four.

    This season, the Vols have ascended to No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches Poll for only the second time in school history. Their 20-1 start is the best beginning to a season in program history since UT joined the SEC prior to the 1932-33 season. Tennessee’s current 16-game winning streak is now a school record for longest winning streak in program history.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.