Tennessee is going to be looked at as one of the highest-ranked preseason teams this offseason with the moves that Rick Barnes and his program have made since the season-ending Sweet 16 loss to Florida Atlantic.
The Vols have been widely talked about as one of the transfer portal winners this offseason after bringing in three talented players: Northern Colorado’s Dalton Knecht, Harvard’s Chris Ledlum, and USC Upstate’s Jordan Gainey. In addition to that, Tennessee is also bringing back 2022-2023 All-SEC First Team star Santiago Vescovi.
Tennessee is losing production, though. Olivier Nkamhoua is in the transfer portal, Julian Phillips is en route to the NBA, BJ Edwards is in Dallas at SMU, Tyreke Key has graduated, and Uros Plavsic’s time with the team has come to a close. The final wildcard remaining was Josiah-Jordan James, who shocked the college basketball world by announcing his return to Tennessee for a super-senior season this past Wednesday.
While James’ return does make the rotation interesting as Tennessee has a lot of pieces to work with, returning a veteran star with his experience is certainly a net positive for Tennessee – which is the same way that ESPN’s Jeff Borzello sees the Vols’ path ahead as well.
After originally placing the Vols at No. 7 in his way-too-early power rankings for ESPN, Borzello has now moved Tennessee up two spots after the news that James is returning.
Borzello’s rankings from Friday morning have Tennessee as the No. 5 team in his way-too-early 2023-2024 college basketball rankings.
“Tennessee is one of the biggest portal winners of the offseason thus far, landing Jordan Gainey (South Carolina Upstate), Chris Ledlum (Harvard) and Dalton Knecht (Northern Colorado), while also getting All-SEC guard Santiago Vescovi and veteran starter Josiah-Jordan James back for another year,” Borzello wrote in his article.
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Borzello also predicts a starting lineup of Zakai Zeigler (post-injury), Santiago Vescovi, Dalton Knecht, Josiah-Jordan James, and Jonas Aidoo. During the RTI Press Pass podcast from Thursday, Ryan Schumpert and myself both agreed that another very possible early-season starting lineup could be Zeigler, Vescovi, Jahmai Mashack, Aidoo, and Tobe Awaka – if Barnes wants to use two big players to start the season. Having Knecht in line for a starting spot would signify that the transfer wing could really help Tennessee with outside shooting, though.
Either way you look at it, still months out from the regular season or training camp, Tennessee will have plenty of interesting pieces to create a starting lineup with.
Tennessee is the highest-ranked team from the SEC in Borzello’s rankings. There are four other teams from the conference in the rankings with it being fairly backloaded: No. 14 Arkansas, No. 17 Texas A&M, No. 23 Alabama, and No. 24 Kentucky. Future SEC foe Texas is also listed at No. 25 in the way-too-early rankings from ESPN’s Jeff Borzello.