When Rick Barnes became Tennessee’s head coach in 2015, he brought big expectations with him. After an over-achieving 2017-2018 season where the Vols unexpectedly won the SEC and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, media predictions thus far have projected Tennessee to have their greatest season in the history of the program.
Per CBS Sports, Tennessee is projected to be one of four No. 1 seeds in the 2019 NCAA Tournament along with Duke, Kansas, and Gonzaga. Duke, Kansas, and Gonzaga are no surprise as picks for no. 1 seeds and all have held that position previously. Duke and Kansas are perennial national title contenders and are accustomed to such expectations.
Duke brings another young, uber-talented team with three one-and-done freshmen. Kansas returns the best big man in the country in Udoke Azubuike. Gonzaga returns many players from last year’s team that reached the Sweet 16, but they seem like more of a surprise on this list than Tennessee.
What separates Tennessee from the teams mentioned above is that everyone, except two role players, are returning from last year. Also, Kyle Alexander will be 100% and should be a force on defense in the paint (something the Vols sorely missed during last year’s NCAA tournament). Tennesse is the most experienced team going into next season; with Nevada not far behind.
With realistic Final Four aspirations this year, Tennessee basketball fans should be over the moon. The 2018-2019 season has the makings of something special and Rick Barnes is the ideal coach to make sure this team remains focused amid such high expectations (in most preseason top 25 polls, the Vols are ranked in the top 10 and as high as the top 5 in others).
Tennessee basketball doesn’t get this kind of hype ever, so one can’t help but buy into it. Though the first half of 2018 has already passed, winter still can’t get here soon enough.