It’s safe to say that expectations for Rick Barnes’ ninth Tennessee team are high heading into the 2023-2024 season.
The Vols are coming off of a Sweet 16 appearance in New York City last season and return three of their four leading scorers including Zakai Zeigler, Josiah-Jordan James, and Santiago Vescovi. In addition to the returning players, Tennessee also reloaded with new faces including two offensive players from the transfer portal and a handful of young, impressive freshmen.
Tennessee’s two transfer portal additions, Jordan Gainey and Dalton Knecht, led Tennessee in scoring with 17 and 14 points respectively in the season-opening win over Tennessee Tech on Monday night.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo called Tennessee a Final Four team after their exhibition game, as did Lenior-Rhyne head coach Everick Sullivan. Tennessee Tech head coach John Pelphrey called the Vols “different” on Monday night after the Vols’ 80-42 season-opening win.
All of that to say, there are a lot of analysts and coaches that are high on Tennessee entering the season.
Checking in with Joe Lundari’s ESPN Bracketology report gives a good idea of the preseason/early season hype that is surrounding Barnes’ team.
Lunardi currently has Tennessee projected as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest right behind one-seed Purdue.
Other SEC teams projected in Lunardi’s Bracketology report from Tuesday morning includes No. 4 Arkansas (East), No. 4 Texas A&M (South), No. 5 Alabama (Midwest), No. 5 Kentucky (West), No. 8 Mississippi State (Midwest), No. 8 Auburn, and No. 10 Florida (West). Missouri is listed as one of Lunardi’s first four out along with Boise State, Providence, and Texas Tech.
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Lunardi states that the SEC champion could very well be in line for a one-seed, though.
“Logic suggests a non-UConn Big East champion (Marquette or Creighton) will be heard from, along with whomever survives the SEC (our pick is Tennessee),” Lunardi wrote about the final one-seed spot. “And geography tells us not to discount the possibility of a Gonzaga or Arizona rising to the top out west.”
Tennessee landed as the highest-ranked team among SEC competion in the Week 1 AP Top 25 poll with the No. 9 slot. A trio of SEC teams trail Tennessee including No. 14 Arkansas, No. 15 Texas A&M, and No. 16 Kentucky. Alabama lands as the final SEC team in the rankings at No. 24.
Auburn (27), Mississippi State (20), Missouri (6), and Florida (2) all received votes in the Week 1 poll.
No. 9 Tennessee will return to the court for their second game of the season this Friday night against Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin. The game will take place at 9:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on Peacock.