Gone are the days of Tennessee being picked to finish 13th in the SEC. Rick Barnes is going to have to find a new form of motivation this year.
We saw the immediate hype begin directly after the 2018 NCAA Tournament when a few outlets placed the Vols inside of their top ten for the 2018-19 season. Now, Tennessee can be found ranked 3rd in Gary Parrish’s latest top 25.
That’s right — third in the nation. That’s just an astounding turn of events considering where this program was 365 days ago.
Here’s why Parrish is so high on the Vols.
Why the Vols are ranked here: Tennessee should return most of the important pieces from a team that shared the SEC regular-season title. More specifically, the top six scorers are back — among them SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams. So it’ll come as no surprise when the Vols finish at, or near, the top of the league again.
Of course, this is all assuming Tennessee star Admiral Schofield returns for his senior season. He’s testing the NBA Draft waters currently, but hasn’t signed an agent and has until May 30th to decide to return to school.
As of today, it sounds like Schofield is still leaning towards returning, but Tennessee fans will breathe a lot easier when he makes that news official.
Only Kansas and Duke rank ahead of Tennessee for Parrish. Kentucky checks in just behind the Vols, with Gonzaga following the Wildcats. Tennessee is already slated to play Gonzaga in early December and could very well take on Kansas during the preseason NIT tournament in New York in November.
Tennessee is set to return everyone outside of James Daniel and Chris Darrington this season, pending Schofield’s decision. That means the starting five will remain in tact with another summer to grow and develop as players.
That’s an exciting formula, but it remains to be seen how this squad deals with championship expectations. They got a taste of it back in March. Maybe that will pay dividends down the road.