Both staff writer Ben McKee and managing editor Nathanael Rutherford contributed to this article
The hype surrounding the 2020-21 Tennessee men’s basketball season continues to press forward.
NCAA.com’s Andy Katz stated at the beginning of the month that Tennessee should be picked No. 1 or No. 2 in the SEC this upcoming season. “Only two seniors were on the roster. The Vols have a top five recruiting class led by Jaden Springer,” Katz wrote in his Power 36 College Basketball rankings.
Now, fellow college basketball writer Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports is hopping on the Tennessee hype train, as he took to Twitter to voice his opinion on the Vols.
“SEC Thought: Kentucky and Auburn — two of the conference’s flagship programs over the past few years — are set to be two of the youngest teams in college basketball next season,” Rothstein wrote. “The early pick to win the league in 20-21? Tennessee.”
Both the Wildcats and Tigers will be undergoing massive overhauls to their rosters this offseason. Kentucky loses all five of their starters and their top six scorers from last season after SEC Player of the Year Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards, Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, and EJ Montgomery all declared for the 2020 NBA Draft this offseason. Senior forward Nate Sestina also graduated, and freshman Johnny Juzang transferred, leaving the Wildcats with only one major contributor returning from last season in rising sophomore Keion Brooks Jr., who averaged 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds as a freshman.
Similarly, Auburn will look like a whole new team in the 2020-21 season as well.
The Tigers lose five players to graduation, and star freshman Isaac Okoro declared early for the 2020 NBA Draft as well. They, just like Kentucky, have lost all six of their top scorers from this previous season.
The Vols, meanwhile, will have a blend of experience and young talent on next season’s roster.
Tennessee will be deep and talented next season. Not only are Jordan Bowden and Jalen Johnson the only notable departures from the roster this past season, but the Vols also add an important graduate transfer from Sacred Heart in E.J. Anosike and a top five recruiting class.
Barnes’ best recruiting class while in Knoxville is led by Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, a pair of five-star guards. Tennessee also signed four-star forward Corey Walker Jr. out of Chatham, Virginia as part of the highly-touted 2020 recruiting class.
Both Kentucky and Auburn are bringing in their own group of stud recruits for next season, however. The Wildcats have the No. 1 signing class in the 2020 cycle after inking a trio of five-stars and three more four-star prospects to round out the class. All six of Kentucky’s signees are ranked inside the top 50 of the 247Sports Composite rankings. Not only that, but Kentucky has also brought in a couple transfers and is still in the market for another.
Auburn, meanwhile, has signed a top-10 recruiting class that’s headlined by five-star point guard Sharife Cooper. Four-star power forward JT Thor committed to the Tigers on Easter Sunday, and Auburn is still in play for a couple other highly-rated recruits who have yet to sign in the 2020 class as well.
The Vols finished eighth in the SEC this past season, but Tennessee was a top-three team in the conference the previous two seasons. UT split the regular season title with Auburn in the 2017-18 season and finished third in the league in the 2018-19 season. Tennessee made it to the SEC Tournament Finals in both seasons.
Under Barnes, the Vols are 49-36 in regular season SEC games, going 37-17 in conference play over the last three seasons.