Analyst Moves Vols Just Outside Top 10 in Early Rankings

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    The hype train continues to roll for Tennessee’s men’s basketball program as the e 2020-21 season aproaches.

    Multiple outlets have continued to rank the Vols inside their way-too-early top 25 rankings for next season. Most have even gone as far to include Rick Barnes’ sixth-year squad in the top 15, while some analysts have projected Tennessee as the team most likely to win the SEC.

    In ESPN’s Jeff Borzello’s initial Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2020-21, he listed Tennessee at No. 13. In his most recent rankings, Borzello has moved the Vols up to No. 11, just outside of the top 10.

    “I get more optimistic about Tennessee’s roster every time we update the rankings,” Borzello wrote. “Here’s how deep Tennessee’s talent level is this season: The Volunteers might not have to start both incoming five-star guards, and they could have someone who averaged 15.7 points and 11.6 rebounds last season coming off the bench.

    “Four starters are back from a season ago, and five-star guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson will push for starting roles immediately. Sacred Heart graduate transfer E.J. Anosike provides depth and experience on the interior. Among the returnees, Santiago Vescovi might be the key. The Uruguayan point guard became eligible in January and gave Barnes a lift in the starting lineup immediately — but Vescovi needs to become more efficient and cut down on his turnovers if Tennessee is to reach its potential. He had five or more turnovers in seven of his 19 games played and a negative assist-to-turnover ratio in eight of 19.”

    Borzello projects Tennessee’s starting rotation to consist of Vescovi, Springer, Josiah-Jordan James, Yves Pons, and John Fulkerson.

    “The Volunteers struggled last season and would have missed the NCAA tournament,” Borzello wrote. “But I think a big bounce-back campaign is in store for Rick Barnes’ team.”

    Tennessee is one of three SEC schools ranked in Borzello’s latest way-too-early top 25. Tennessee was the highest-rated school inside the SEC. He also ranked Kentucky at No. 13 and Florida No. 21, respectively. He also included Arkansas as one of his teams that just missed out on being ranked in the top 25.

    The Vols will be deep and talented next season. Jordan Bowden and Jalen Johnson the only notable departures from the roster this past season as the Vols add Anosike to a top five recruiting class.

    As of right now, Yves Pons currently has his name in the draft pool for this year’s NBA Draft, but it’s assumed that Pons will ultimately pull his name from consideration before the deadline and return to Tennessee for his senior season.

    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. Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. will also be eligible this season after having to sit out last season due to transfer rules.

    Under Barnes, the Vols are 49-36 in regular season SEC games, going 37-17 in conference play over the last three seasons. Tennessee made the NCAA Tournament the previous two seasons before the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic this spring.

    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.