Tennessee basketball received great news on Monday afternoon when senior forward Yves Pons announced that he was withdrawing his name from the 2020 NBA Draft and returning for his senior season.
As a result of Pons’ decision to return to Rocky Top for one more season, ESPN college basketball writer Jeff Borzello deemed Tennessee a “winner” on Monday at the 2020 NBA Draft deadline.
“The Volunteers’ roster grew on me over the course of the offseason, and that was solidified when starting forward Yves Pons decided to return to Knoxville,” Borzello wrote on Tuesday. “Pons wasn’t ranked in ESPN’s top 100, but he had interest from some NBA teams because of his elite defensive ability and improvement from the perimeter. With Pons back in the fold, Rick Barnes has a potential preseason top-10 team.
“All the ingredients are there: playmakers and scorers in the backcourt, depth and size down low — and now there’s an X factor in Pons, who can make plays at both ends of the floor. Tennessee might be the SEC favorite, depending on what happens with the waiver request of Kentucky’s Olivier Sarr.”
The Vols return nine scholarship players from last year’s team that went 17-14 in the regular season and 9-9 in SEC play. Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner and Jalen Johnson are the only departures. Bowden and Turner graduated, while Johnson ultimately transferred to Wake Forest as a graduate transfer.
Tennessee returns 67.7 percent of its scoring from a season ago with Pons back in the mix, according to UT basketball SID Tom Satkowiak. The Vols also return 69.7 percent of their rebounding production, 85.6 percent of their blocked shots, 66.1 percent of their steals, 68.7 percent of their minutes played and 71.6 percent of their starts.
The Vols weren’t the only SEC team to be deemed a winner at the 2020 NBA Draft deadline by Borzello. He also listed Alabama, LSU and Arkansas as winners.
Alabama received great news early Monday afternoon when All-SEC guard John Petty announced he would be returning for his senior season in Tuscaloosa. Will Wade’s LSU Tigers went 3-for-3 on deadline day with Trendon Watford, Ja’vonte Smart and Darius Days all announcing their intention to return to Baton Rouge. As for Arkansas, the Razorbacks received great news on Monday when All-SEC guard Isaiah Joe announced his intentions to return to Fayetteville for another season.
The only SEC team to be deemed a loser by Borzello was Mississippi State. The Bulldogs lose senior Tyson Carter and three early entrants in Robert Woodard, Reggie Perry and Nick Weatherspoon.
Tennessee’s 2020-21 season is currently scheduled to begin Nov. 11 when it travels to Wisconsin. The conference schedule has not yet been released, but we do know the Vols will play Cincinatti in Thompson-Boling Arena on Dec. 12 before traveling to Nashville on Dec. 19 to take on arch-rival Memphis at Bridgestone Arena.
UT also has non-conference games scheduled with Presbyterian, Tennessee Tech, George Washington, USC Upstate and Norfolk State. The game against Presbyterian on Nov. 14 will be the home-opener.