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Vols Make Top 10 of Another Way-Too-Early Poll

Over on ESPN, Tennessee’s men’s basketball program has snuck into the top 10 of Jeff Borzello’s way-too-early preseason top 25. But ESPN isn’t the only site that believes the Vols are a preseason top 10 team right now.

247Sports recently updated their way-too-early top 25 in men’s hoops, and the Vols found themselves in a familiar spot this offseason: inside the top 10.

According to 247Sports’ rankings, Tennessee is the No. 10 team in the country at this point in the offseason. Even with the Vols still waiting for rising senior Yves Pons to make his final decision about going pro or coming back to college, 247Sports believes Tennessee is the top team in the SEC and one of the top teams in all of college basketball for the upcoming 2020-21 season.

“Yves Pons and John Fulkerson emerged as stars a year ago, and should Pons return, he’ll have plenty of help,” writes 247Sports. “Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James are returning starters as well, and the fourth-ranked class in the 247Sports Composite yielded two five-star players in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. Add in rebounding machine E.J. Anosike, who transferred in from Sacred Heart and Oregon transfer Victor Bailey, a high-quality shooter who sat out last year, and the Volunteers have plenty of returning talent and overall experience.”

247Sports projects Tennessee’s starting lineup to be Santiago Vescovi, Jaden Springer, Josiah-Jordan James, Yves Pons, and John Fulkerson to begin the 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 the aforementioned EJ Anosike to a top-five recruiting class to a fairly experienced roster.

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. That assumption becomes less and less certain as time goes on, but Pons is still largely expected to come back to UT.

Barnes’ best recruiting class while in Knoxville is led by Springer and 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 recruiting class. Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. will also be eligible this season after having to sit out last season due to transfer rules.

Tennessee is the highest-rated SEC team in 247Sports’ early rankings, beating out Kentucky (17th), Arkansas (19th), and LSU (21st). Gonzaga checks in at No. 1 overall, followed by Baylor, Virginia, Villanova, Iowa, Duke, Kansas, Creighton, and Wisconsin.

Under Barnes, the Vols are 49-36 in regular season SEC games, going 37-17 in conference play over the last three seasons while going 74-29 overall in that span. Tennessee made the NCAA Tournament the previous two seasons before the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring.

While both ESPN’s and 247Sports’ 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. That would mark the first time since the 2007-08 season and the 2009-10 season that Tennessee’s men’s basketball program started in the top 10 of the preseason poll twice in a three-year span.

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