The hype train for Tennessee’s men’s basketball program continues to gain steam.
Tennessee has crept all the way up to No. 10 in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 25 for the 2020-21 college basketball season.
In his first installment of his way-too-early rankings, ESPN staff writer Jeff Borzello ranked the Vols at No. 13. Borzello then moved UT to No. 11 in his second edition of the ratings, and now he’s moved Tennessee’s basketball team all the way up to No. 10.
“Rick Barnes is going to be spoiled for choice next season,” Borzello wrote. “The Volunteers return four starters and add one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, a group that features two five-star prospects in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. There’s also Sacred Heart graduate transfer E.J. Anosike, who averaged nearly 16 points and 12 rebounds last season.
“But there’s one player being lost in the shuffle a bit, and that’s Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. Bailey has great athleticism and shot nearly 40% from 3 as a sophomore as he played 37 games for a Sweet 16 team. Santiago Vescovi was thrust into the starting point guard role last season once Lamonte Turner got hurt, but he struggled with turnovers; if those struggles continue, Barnes could move Springer or Josiah-Jordan James to a playmaking role and get Bailey into the lineup. The preseason battles for starting spots will be awfully interesting in Knoxville.”
Tennessee is the highest-ranked SEC team and one of four SEC teams in Borzello’s rankings. Kentucky sits right behind the Vols at No. 11, while Florida and Arkansas bring up the rear at No. 24, and No. 25, respectively.
Borzello projects Tennessee’s starting lineup to consist of Vescovi, Springer, James, Yves Pons, and John Fulkerson. Springer would be the only new starter in that lineup from UT’s main starting group last season.
The Vols will be deep and talented next season. Jordan Bowden and Jalen Johnson are 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 past spring.
While Borzello’s preseason rankings aren’t indicative of how the preseason AP Poll will play out, should the Vols crack the top 10 of the preseason AP Poll, it would mark the second time in three seasons that Tennessee begins the year as a top 10 team.