This week ESPN released its “Way Too Early” 2020-21 College Basketball Rankings, in which Tennessee was rated as the 14th top team in the nation after bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country last season. The high ranking came as no surprise to anyone paying attention to Rick Barnes’ program, as the Vols will bring in 5-star guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, in addition to 4-star power forward Corey Walker — who will likely help the Vols develop a presence in the paint early on in his career in Knoxville.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tennessee received even more praise, this time from CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, who also voiced his belief in the Vols’ potential. Palm ranked the Volunteers as the 13th best team in the nation, the 2nd highest team in his rankings, trailing only No. 2 Kentucky. Palm noted that Tennessee only lost senior guards Lamonté Turner and Jordan Bowden, but would add some of the nation’s most talented and highly coveted players to replace them.
Tennessee also returns rim protector Yves Pons, who earned a block in every game the Vols’ played last season, and John Fulkerson, who led the Vols’ in scoring throughout the year. The Vols will also bring back Santiago Vescovi, who showed bright streaks of potential throughout his season last year, Josiah-Jordan James, who will attempt to elevate his game to the next level next season, and Uros Plavsic, who will also look to improve after only playing half of the season last year due to eligibility issues.
Besides Tennessee and Kentucky, the only other SEC teams Palm included in his rankings were Arkansas, which was rated 23rd, and LSU, which was rated 22nd. ESPN’s SEC rankings were similar, leading many to believe that the race for the SEC title could come again down to the Big Blue and the Big Orange.
It is also worth noting that Tennessee could jump even higher in the preseason rankings, as they are pursuing one of the nation’s top graduate transfers, E.J. Anosike, to join their roster. Anosike is expected to announce his decision on Friday and is down to seven final schools: Gonzaga, Louisville, Georgetown, Georgia, Wake Forest, and Boston College.
The Volunteers finished their 2019-20 season with an expected drop off, ending the unusual season with a 17-14 record. While Tennessee showed great signs of potential, such as their stunning victory against No. 6 Kentucky in Rupp Arena and when they stunned VCU at the buzzer of an early season game, they were never able to develop the consistency needed to be an NCAA Tournament team. They lost by more than twenty points on the road to a struggling Georgia team and were also trounced on the road against a mediocre Arkansas team. Due to the inconsistency, it was the common consensus than Tennessee would have missed out on the NCAA Tournament if the selection had happened.
However, Tennessee now seems to be turning the corner as they will have another team with great depth and talent. The Volunteers will be a force to be reckoned with in 2020, the question is just how much they will improve and if they now have the potential to earn themselves their first ever final four appearance next March.