The SEC has a habit of releasing its basketball schedule around this time each year, which means you'll stop caring about football for around 30 seconds. The Vols and new coach Rick Barnes unveiled their SEC slate to go alongside 13 non-conference tests. Barnes has previously stressed having a tournament-ready schedule, and though that bar might be a little too high for the Vols to clear in his first year, I love that Tennessee for the most part went smart in RPI anyway (which also tends to be a major factor in NIT selections). While not drawing a major non-conference opponent in Knoxville, Barnes and his squad will travel to Butler and Gonzaga, as well as Georgia Tech early in the season and TCU in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. This year's preseason tournament finds Tennessee at the Barclays Center to face George Washington and then either Cincinnati or Nebraska.
The full slate:
|Fri Nov 13||UNC Asheville|
|Mon Nov 16||at Georgia Tech|
|Thu Nov 19||Marshall|
|Sun Nov 22||Gardner-Webb|
|Tue Nov 24||Army|
|Fri Nov 27||George Washington||9:00 PM||Barclays Center Classic|
|Sat Nov 28||Cincinnati OR Nebraska||12:00/2:30||Barclays Center Classic|
|Sat Dec 12||at Butler|
|Wed Dec 16||Florida Atlantic|
|Sat Dec 19||at Gonzaga||Battle in Seattle|
|Tue Dec 22||ETSU|
|Tue Dec 29||Tennessee State|
|Sat Jan 2||at Auburn||CBS||2:00 PM|
|Wed Jan 6||Florida||ESPN2||7:00 PM|
|Sat Jan 9||Texas A&M||SEC Network||1:00 PM|
|Wed Jan 13||at Georgia||SEC Network||7:00 PM|
|Sat Jan 16||at Mississippi State||SEC Network||3:30 PM|
|Wed Jan 20||Vanderbilt||SEC Network||9:00 PM|
|Sat Jan 23||South Carolina||SEC Network||12:00 PM|
|Tue Jan 26||at Alabama||SEC Network||9:00 PM|
|Sat Jan 30||at TCU||SEC/Big 12 Challenge|
|Tue Feb 2||Kentucky||ESPN/U/SECN||7:00 PM|
|Sat Feb 6||at Arkansas||SEC Network||8:00 PM|
|Tue Feb 9||Auburn||SEC Network||7:00 PM|
|Sat Feb 13||at Missouri||SEC Network||3:00 PM|
|Thu Feb 18||at Kentucky||ESPN/2||7:00 PM|
|Sat Feb 20||LSU||ESPNU||5:30 PM|
|Wed Feb 24||at South Carolina||SEC Network||9:00 PM|
|Sat Feb 27||Arkansas||SEC Network||7:30 PM|
|Tue Mar 1||at Vanderbilt||SEC Network||7:00 PM|
|Sat Mar 5||Ole Miss||SEC Network||12:00 PM|
A few first impressions:
- Tennessee's new annual rivalries are South Carolina and the thankful return of Kentucky, and the Vols will continue to see Vanderbilt every year as well. We mourn the continued loss of the Florida rivalry, but with Bruce Pearl at Auburn and Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City it feels like a different era now. Getting the Wildcats back was goal number one, and the SEC did right by both parties there.
- The new SEC schedule features the three annual rivalry home-and-homes and then two rotating opponents for home-and-home, which this year sends Arkansas and Auburn the Vols' way. CBS has a flair for the dramatic one year later, televising the Vols vs Bruce Pearl as the conference opener.
- The single best thing you can do for your RPI is schedule Gonzaga. The Vols did one better, going on the road (or perhaps to a neutral site depending on how the RPI folks view Seattle) to play the Bulldogs. The return date with Butler should also be a nice boost, and George Washington was 21-12 last season and finished 84th in RPI. All of those can help Tennessee massively if it is in any NCAA/NIT conversations.
- On the flip side, the Vols scheduled several low-major teams who were really bad last year. This is good for building confidence in a coach's first year, but if you slip up against them, especially in Knoxville, it can quickly undo any good those huge road games earned (which is what happened to Cuonzo Martin's first team in December). UNC Asheville, Marshall, Army, and Florida Atlantic all finished with RPIs between 235 and 305 last year, and Tennessee State went 3-26 to finish at 341 out of 351 Division I schools. I have no idea what any of those teams bring back and I have a very good idea Rick Barnes knows more about basketball and the ins and outs of scheduling than I do. Hopefully this is just a first year confidence-building stretch of really bad teams and the Vols can take advantage.
- The Vols will take two weeks off during final exams this year, meaning the other non-conference games are more tightly packed. They may get lost in the shuffle of a potentially meaningful November in football, but there will be lots of chances to see them early.