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Tennessee Basketball Lands Right On The Outside of Way-Too-Early Top Ten

Tennessee Basketball
Tennessee Basketball guard Jordan Gainey. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics.

After reaching the Elite Eight but falling short of the Final Four last season, Tennessee is undergoing standard roster reconstruction heading into the 2024-2025 season under head coach Rick Barnes. Tennessee wasn’t immune from significant departures this past season but did play their hand well in the transfer portal, bringing in three talented players before landing the big fish with one of the most sought-after guards in the class.

While Tennessee still has the tough task of getting everyone to mesh before and during the season, the Vols’ offseason activity should be enough to keep them in the Top 10-15 of preseason lists and polls heading into next season. From there, it’s on the team to succeed.

ESPN’s Jeff Borzello has been tracking the activity and movement around the college basketball landscape this offseason and previously had Tennessee right on the outside of the Top 10 at No. 13.

Tennessee still comes in as the No. 13 team in Borzello’s way-too-early rankings for ESPN on Monday. The ESPN expert acknowledged that while Dalton Knecht and Rick Barnes’ best offense in years is out the door, that same door still remains open with the addition of North Florida transfer Chaz Lanier alongside two-time All-SEC selection Zakai Zeigler.

“Dalton Knecht is gone, and with him goes Rick Barnes’ best offense in several years,” Borzello wrote. “But if the more up-tempo, 3-point-heavy offensive system remains in Knoxville, there should be plenty of optimism. The Volunteers also landed another potential stud mid-major transfer in North Florida’s Chaz Lanier, who averaged 19.7 points and shot 44% from 3.”

Borzello also pointed to the benefit of having Ohio State transfer center Felix Okpara on the defensive end to replace an at-the-rim presence from Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka.

More from RTI: Texas and Oklahoma Are Officially in the SEC. Here’s What They Bring To The Table.

Tennessee lost production from last season that’s not easy to replace: Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi flourished in gritty leadership roles while the previously mentioned Knecht was the offensive engine of Tennessee’s team. Aidoo and Awaka also took up the majority of Tennessee’s big man minutes.

In their absence, though, the Vols found four players to elevate the team from the transfer portal. Rick Barnes and his staff brought in Hofstra wing Darlinstone Dubar, Ohio State center Felix Okpara, Charlotte forward Igor Milicic Jr., and North Florida guard Chaz Lanier in an effort to build on the play style that was developed last season.

Tennessee also has a crop of returning seniors and sophomores, too.

Zakai Zeigler, Jahmai Mashack, and Jordan Gainey are all heading into the senior season and will be tasked with a lot both on and off the court as leaders and players. On the flip side, though, Tennessee also has three sophomores who should blossom out of their freshman seasons nicely. That trio of players includes guard Cameron Carr, forward JP Estrella, and forward Cade Phillips.

Take everything together and you’ve got a nice mix during summer ball: Returning veterans, returning newcomers, and experienced players out of the portal – Not a bad start to the summer for Rick Barnes and his staff.

Tennessee is currently going through off-season strength and conditioning as they prepare for a long season ahead. Vols’ Director of Sports Performance Garrett Medenwald recently detailed Tennessee’s offseason activity in an interview, which can be found here.

Tennessee lands as the fourth-ranked team in the SEC and also finds itself third in a four-team run from the SEC in the rankings. Alabama leads all SEC teams at No. 2 while Auburn, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Arkansas come in at No.11-14 in the rankings. Another run of four SEC teams closes out the rankings with Ole Miss, Florida, Texas, and Kentucky coming in at No. 20-23 in the early rankings.

Other notables include No. 3 UConn, No. 15 Creighton, No. 16 Purdue, and No. 24 UCLA.

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