Tennessee will enter the new college basketball season as a top-15 team, according to ESPN’s latest “Way-Too Early Top 25.”
The Vols came in at No. 12 in the ranking from ESPN college basketball writer Jeff Borzellomoving up one spot from their ranking in a previous edition.
“It will be interesting to see if Rick Barnes goes away from two-big lineups this season,” Borzello wrote. “The addition of five-star recruit Julian Phillips gives the Volunteers another versatile wing forward option to go alongside Josiah-Jordan James. And with Zakai Zeigler likely to run the show next to first-team All-SEC returnee Santiago VescoviBarnes is going to want his four best players on the floor for the majority of the game.”
Borzello projected a starting lineup of Zeigler, Vescovi, Phillips, Josiah-Jordan James spirit Olivier Nkamhoua.
“It’s likely (Barnes) opts for more of what he did in 2020-21,” Borzello continued, “with 6-6 Yves Pons in the frontcourt next to James and only one big. That should leave a lesser role for the 7-footer Uros Plavsicwhile also putting more on the plate of Olivier Nkamhouawho started 22 games before a left ankle injury sidelined him for the rest of last season.
“The Finland native had 15 points against both Texas A&M Aggies and Alabama, and was a good defensive rebounder and interior defender.”
The Way-Too-Early Top 25 included six Tennessee opponents this season — No. 4 Kentucky, No. 9 Arkansas, No. 11 Texas, No. 13 Auburn, No. 16 Arizona and No. 20 Alabama.
The Vols in SEC play will host Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. They’ll travel to Auburn Florida, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. Dates have not yet been set for conference play.
Texas and Tennessee match up in the Big 12-SEC Challenge for a second straight year when the Longhorns visit Thompson-Boling Arena on January 28. The Vols lost 52-51 in Austin last season.
The game at Arizona, with the date not yet announced, is the second game of a home-and-home series that began last December, when a 19th-ranked Tennessee team upset a sixth-ranked and undefeated Arizona team 77-73 at Thompson – Bowling Arena in Knoxville.
Six players from last season’s Tennessee roster left the program. Freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler entered the NBA Draft while five others transferred: senior guard Victor Bailey (George Mason); freshman wing Quentin Diboundje (East Carolina); freshman power forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield (Louisville); freshman center Handje Tamba (Weber State); sophomore shooting guard Justin Powell (Washington State).
Tennessee added four players in its 2023 signing class, headlined by Phillips, the five-star wing. The Vols also added four-star Knoxville point guard BJ Edwardsfour-star wing DJ Jefferson and Indiana State graduate-transfer shooting guard Tyreke Key.