Vols Garnering Respect Prior to Start of Season

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    Despite losing a ton of production off last year’s roster, Tennessee’s men’s basketball team is getting a lot of preseason respect prior to the 2019-20 season.

    The upcoming men’s basketball season is almost here. The Vols begin preseason practice this week, and their first game of the season — an exhibition match-up against Easter New Mexico — is on October 30th, barely over a month away. With the season approaching quickly, several media outlets are already putting out preseason top 25 lists and early NCAA Tournament bracket projects.

    Athough the Vols are one of the biggest unknowns in college basketball heading into the 2019-20 season, most media outlets are giving UT the benefit of the doubt after putting together strong back-to-back seasons under head coach Rick Barnes.

    Tennessee has made it to the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, and the two major players in the “bracketology” game are already projecting the Vols to make it to the Big Dance for a third-straight season. Both Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports have Tennessee making it into the Field of 64 in 2020.

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    Palm’s latest bracketology update thinks pretty highly of Tennessee’s chances not only to make it into the tournament, but to earn a pretty respectable seed, too. Palm has the Vols making it into the tournament as a five-seed in the East region, matching up with Missouri State in Omaha. Duke, Memphis, Villanoa, and Maryland are also in that region of Palm’s bracket.

    On ESPN, Lunardi predicts the Vols will be a nine-seed in the West bracket, playing Michigan in Omaha. Kansas is the one-seed in that region according to Lunardi, and Memphis, reigning national champions Virginia, Gonzaga, and Kentucky are also in that region.

    But those two aren’t the only ones predicting the Vols to make it to the 2020 NCAA Tournament.

    Andy Katz of NCAA.com projects the Vols to earn a 10-seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, facing off with seven-seed Davidson in the East region. Kentucky, Duke, Purdue, and VCU are in Katz’ East region as well.

    Speaking of Katz, he also mentions the Vols as a team “in the mix” in his preseason “Power 36” list. The Vols were just outside the top 36 teams in the country according to Katz, but they’re the second team he mentions in his “in the mix” section, coming in behind Arizona and ahead of NC State, South Florida, Cincinnati, South Carolina, and others.

    In other preseason polls, Tennessee has snuck in to the top 25 in multiple outlets.

    On NBC Sports, the Vols are listed at No. 23 in their preseason basketball poll. Tennessee is just ahead of VCU and Ohio State and are one of five SEC schools ranked in the top 25. And according to the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook Preseason Poll, the Vols are also the preseason No. 23 team.

    On the whole, the Vols are losing two-thirds of their production off last year’s roster thanks to the departures of Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone, and Kyle Alexander. Tennessee also lost Derrick Walker and DJ Burns to transfer, leaving the Vols with five players off last year’s roster who saw playing time on the court. That group is headlined by a senior duo of Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden in the backcourt, and John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, and Jalen Johnson also return from last year’s team. Zach Kent was on the roster and returns this year, though he didn’t play last season.

    Tennessee welcomes in several new faces this season, and those new additions bring a lot of optimism along with the returning veterans.

    The Vols’ newest pieces on their roster are headlined by a five-star and a seven-foot transfer. Five-star guard Josiah-Jordan James signed with UT as part of their 2019 class, and he should have an immediate impact not only on the Vols’ offense, but their defense as well. Uros Plavsic, a seven-foot center who was a four-star prospect in the 2018 class, transferred this offseason to UT from Arizona State after redshirting his freshman year. Tennessee is still waiting to hear back from the NCAA about whether or not Plavsic will have immediate eligibility this season, but head coach Rick Barnes remains optimistic he will.

    Along with those two, Tennessee welcomes in four-star power forward Olivier Robinson-Nkamhoua, three-star forward and Bearden standout Drew Pember, and three-star small forward Davonte Gaines.

    The Vols will get to show whether or not they’re worthy of the offseason respect starting on November 5th when they begin the regular season against UNC-Ashevillle.

    Nathanael Rutherford
    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.