Tennessee Moves Up a Spot in Updated Bracketology

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    Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/RTI

    It’s never too early for bracketology, especially if you’re ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. The famed bracketologist has already put out his second edition of bracketology for the 2021 NCAA Tournament early on this offseason.

    In Lunardi’s latest bracket following recent attrition throughout the sport, he has moved Tennessee up a line to a 4-seed, making them one of the top 16 teams in the tournament. The Vols would play in-state foe Belmont in the opening round as part of the South Region in Lexington, Kentucky. Lunardi has the Bruins as a 13-seed.

    Should Tennessee beat Belmont, it would face the winner of 5-seed Ohio State and 12-seed Loyola-Chicago in the second round — two teams Vol fans are very familiar with in the NCAA Tournament.

    Lunardi had Rick Barnes’ sixth Tennessee basketball team making the field of the 2021 tournament as a 5-seed in his initial bracketology, making them one of the top 20 teams in the tournament. In version one of Lunardi’s way-too-early March Madness bracket, the Vols would play their first round game in San Jose, California in the Midwest Region. Their opponent would be the winner of 12-seed Saint Louis and 12-seed Arizona State after the two teams play in Dayton in one of the ‘First Four’ games.

    “With an understanding that all of us in college basketball are blessed to work in life’s toy department, we press on toward a 2020-21 season with a hopeful eye and a wistful heart,” Lunardi wrote at the time of his first bracket release. “The 2019-20 tourney-less campaign left us worse than in the lurch. It left us with a suddenness that was unprecedented and, Lord willing, unrepeatable.

    “Our methodology for future brackets is based on an algorithm of returning minutes per team, the established level of production of those minutes and guesstimates of how (and how well) a team’s non-returning minutes will be replaced. The NBA draft process and NCAA transfer portal present moving targets for everyone, so this bracket might be obsolete for at least some teams in a day, a week or a month. We’ll update to reflect that movement as frequently as possible.”

    Tennessee is one of six projected SEC teams to make the Big Dance. The Vols are joined by 4-seed Kentucky, 5-seed Florida, 7-seed LSU, 8-seed Arkansas, and 11-seed Alabama, who is projected to be one of the last four teams to make the tournament.

    Lunardi has the Crimson Tide playing Memphis in one of the four play-in games in Dayton. Both teams are penciled in as an 11-seed.

    “Know that a typical April bracket will correctly forecast about half of the top seeds for the following season,” Lunardi writes. “It will identify about two-thirds of the eventual at-large pool. And its misses will be glaring.”

    The Vols just wrapped up a 17-14 season in year five under Rick Barnes. Tennessee finished eighth in the SEC with a conference record of 9-9 after being projected to finish fifth in the preseason. UT was supposed to play 9-seed Alabama in the SEC Tournament on Thursday, March 12th, until the SEC Tournament was canceled due to the Coronavirus.

    In all likelihood, the Vols would’ve missed the NCAA Tournament this year had it been held. But Tennessee will be right in the thick of the tournament conversation next season.

    Tennessee welcomes in arguably its greatest recruiting class in modern recruiting history for the 2020-21 season. The Vols signed the No. 4 overall recruiting class in the country that consists of five-star shooting guard Jaden Springer, five-star shooting guard Keon Johnson, and four-star forward Corey Walker. Current four-star Vol wide receiver signee Malachi Wideman could also be part of the class and could potentially play both sports.

    UT returns the majority of its rotation from this past season in addition to bringing in one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Second Team All-SEC selection John Fulkerson and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons return for their senior seasons, while point guard Santiago Vescovi and fellow rising sophomore guard Josiah-Jordan James also return after showing promise in their rookie campaigns as starters.

    Tennessee will also welcome two key transfers to the rotation in Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. — who transferred to UT last offseason but will now be eligible this upcoming season — and Sacred Heart graduate transfer E.J. Anosike.

    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also the host of the RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.