Tennessee basketball is off to a great start this season. Their beginning to the 2019-20 season has been better than most anticipated, in fact.
Following an exhibition win over Eastern New Mexico, Rick Barnes’ fifth-year squad started the post-Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone, and Kyle Alexander era with a 78-63 win over UNC Asheville. In their second game out, Tennessee overcame a sloppy first half against Murray State to beat the Racers 82-63.
Their third and most recent game is the biggest surprise of the young season so far, and it’s the reason the Vols have catapulted into the top 20 of nearly every ranking.
In Toronto, Ontario on Saturday, Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner, and Yves Pons led Tennessee to a dominating 75-62 win over then-ranked No. 20 Washington. The victory improved the Vols to 3-0, and now all three of their wins this season have come by double digits.
Prior to the season, nearly every poll did not have the Vols ranked, nor did any national media members. Now, following the win over the Huskies, Tennessee is ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press poll and No. 17 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
This week marks the first time this season that UT has been ranked in the AP Poll. It’s the first time since the end of last season that the Vols have been ranked, meaning Tennessee only went two weeks this season without being a ranked team. Tennessee was ranked somewhere in the AP top 25 every week last year, and spent four weeks as the No. 1 team in the country. The Vols were a wire-to-wire top 10 team last season.
In addition to being ranked in the two prominent polls, the Vols have also made an appearance in nearly every prominent national media member’s power rankings. Here’s a look at who has Tennessee ranked where and what they have to say about the Vols’ early season success (when applicable).
“Jordan Bowden scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half of Saturday’s 75-62 win over Washington. The Vols led for the the final 37 minutes of the game.”
“Nice start for Tennessee, including a win on Saturday over Washington in Toronto. But the five starters played all but 22 minutes in the game, and four of them logged 34 or more minutes. That’s the kind of thing that can catch up to a team real quick, but Rick Barnes told me by phone on Sunday that he expects to develop his bench in the next few weeks. Part of the issue is that the Vols’ prized freshman, 6-6 forward Josiah-Jordan James, missed more than a month of practice because of a groin injury. “I think we’ll get (the rotation) to nine or ten guys pretty soon,” Barnes said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys and we’re playing a brutal schedule. I’m trying to win games, and you can’t do that if you put more than one or two new guys on the floor at the same time.”
ESPN’s Jeff Borzello — No. 14
“I wasn’t as high on Tennessee as some in the preseason, as there were major questions about the Volunteers’ frontcourt and how they were going to replace Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Jordan Bone was another key personnel loss, but freshman Josiah-Jordan James was a capable replacement on the perimeter. Well, Rick Barnes certainly found his new frontcourt in Yves Pons and John Fulkerson. The junior duo went toe-to-toe with Washington’s top-10 tandem of Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels and helped lead the Volunteers to an impressive 13-point win over the Huskies in Canada. Pons and Fulkerson combined for 29 points and nine rebounds. With Tennessee’s backcourt as good as expected, the Volunteers are absolutely a threat in the SEC once again.”
“I know it’s a college football Saturday, but Tennessee hoops just picked up a big win against a REALLY good Washington team. Even in life after Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams, the Vols look like a legit Top 15 team and SEC title contender. Again, just an AWESOME win. Quietly important note for Tennessee: Yves Pons had 15 points tonight, the third time in three games he’s scored in double-figures this season. For Tennessee to reach its potential this year, the Vols needed a big guy to step up. Pons appears to be that guy.”
NCAA.com’s Andy Katz — No. 18
“I waited to see how the Vols would handle their first big-time game. They beat Washington. And now they are in the top 20.”
Stadium’s Jeff Goodman — No. 11
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi — No. 19