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ESPN: Vols Basketball Should be “Back Near the Top” Next Season

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

Tennessee is ranked in the top 15 of yet another national media member’s way-too-early top 25 college basketball poll following the recent attrition in the sport.

ESPN staff writer Jeff Borzello has the Vols ranked No. 13 in the country in his most recent 2020-21 way-too-early college basketball poll. Tennessee moves up one spot after previously being ranked No. 14.

“After a down year following the departure of three stars and a season-ending injury to Lamonte Turner, coach Rick Barnes should have the Volunteers back near the top of the SEC standings,” Borzello wrote. “Let’s start with the returnees. Three double-figure scorers are back, with Santiago Vescovi at point guard and John Fulkerson and Yves Pons up front. Freshman Josiah-Jordan James returns as a do-everything starter with size and playmaking ability.

“Then there’s the incoming freshman class, led by five-star guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. Springer brings toughness and playmaking to the backcourt, while Johnson is an amazing athlete. There are also transfers: Victor Bailey Jr. (7.4 PPG) is eligible after sitting out after his transfer from Oregon, and the Volunteers added Sacred Heart graduate transfer E.J. Anosike (15.7 PPG, 11.6 RPG) this spring. Barnes should have far more versatility and depth than a season ago, as well as a nice blend of experience and youth.”

Tennessee is one of four SEC schools ranked in Borzello’s way-too-early top 25, and the Vols are the highest ranked team from the conference.

Kentucky fell 10 spots to No. 15 after eight of the nine scholarship players who logged minutes this past season for the Wildcats declared for the NBA Draft, graduated, or transferred. Florida, on the other hand, jumps into the top 25 following the decisions of Scottie Lewis and Keyontae Johnson to remain in Gainesville for another season. Arkansas is ranked No. 21, and LSU is listed as one of “the next in line” schools to be ranked.

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.

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 Anosike and the No. 4 recruiting class according to 247Sports.

Barnes’ best recruiting class while in Knoxville is led by Springer and Johnson, a pair of five-star guards. Tennessee also signed Corey Walker Jr. out of Chatham, Virginia as part of the highly-touted recruiting class.

Under Barnes, the Vols are 49-36 in regular season SEC games, going 37-17 in conference play over the last three seasons.

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