After almost a decade of solid scheduling - a policy built by Bruce Pearl and maintained by Cuonzo Martin - we wondered if Donnie Tyndall would continue to put the Vols out there against nationally-recognized foes, especially early in his tenure with the roster dealing with major turnover. With the Vols facing Florida and Kentucky just once each in the third and thankfully final year of the current SEC rotation, the RPI number could use some help...but not too much help with a young team.
Tyndall's response: an uncharacteristically early release of a dozen non-conference games, some inherited and others newly formed, creating a nice balance of mid-major darlings and heavy lifting on neutral floors. The Vols released the schedule on the official site today, which includes:
- Fri Nov 14 vs VCU (Veterans Classic - Annapolis, MD)
- Thu Nov 20 vs Texas Southern
- Thanksgiving Weekend - Orlando Classic (Kansas, Michigan State, Marquette, Georgia Tech, Rhode Island, Santa Clara, Rider)
- Sat Dec 6 vs Kansas State (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
- Sun Dec 14 vs Butler
- Wed Dec 17 at NC State
- Fri Dec 19 vs Tennessee Tech
- Mon Dec 22 vs Mercer
- Sat Dec 27 vs Tennessee State
- Wed Dec 31 vs ETSU
Today's secret word is "front-loaded".
Depending on the draw in Orlando, the Vols could be underdogs in seven of their first eight games. A 1-7 start wouldn't exactly inspire confidence in the new guy, but the scheduling is to be commended. The only RPI duds in the mix are the in-state trio in December; I wonder if Tyndall's background at Morehead State and Southern Miss where he wasn't the big state school created a soft spot for teams like those. Either way, he's certainly not the first Vol head coach to schedule the state tour.
With such a loaded schedule, there are plenty of opportunities and several of them at home. Butler had a rough go of it last season without Brad Stevens, but that's still a win which would move the needle. So too with Kansas State, a great draw for the Vols after missing out on the SEC/Big 12 Challenge last year with a conference that could've sent someone like TCU our way. And there's the NCAA Tournament rematch with Mercer, a rubber game after the 2013 NIT as well. The neutral site opener with VCU and the Orlando tournament means NC State is the only true road game the Vols will face before SEC competition.
The SEC portion won't be released for months, but we know the names and faces: