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Tennessee basketball lands at No. 11 in ESPN’s way-too-early Top 25

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The college basketball season, in some shape or form, is currently set for a November 25th open. Whenever that happens, the Tennessee Volunteers will be a consensus top 15 team.

Rick Barnes went through a transitional year in 2019-20, losing Grant Williams, Jordan Bone and Admiral Schofield in the previous year. Without obvious answers to replace that production, along with a season-ending injury to Lamonte Turner, it was a bumpy ride for the Volunteers. However, in the process of all that, Tennessee was able to develop John Fulkerson, Yves Pons and Santiago Vescovi.

Add five-star guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, along with transfers like Victor Bailey Jr. and E.J. Anosike, and you’ve got a recipe for a special team.

Jeff Borzello of ESPN placed Tennessee as his 11th best team in the country this morning.

What has me excited for Rick Barnes’ team, though, are the newcomers. Five-star Jaden Springer was the highest-ranked of the Vols’ freshmen, but Keon Johnson is drawing rave reviews in the preseason. Multiple people around college basketball are talking about Johnson as a one-and-done lottery pick type of player. Sacred Heart graduate transfer E.J. Anosike was a double-double machine in the NEC and will bring toughness and rebounding, while Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. has flown under the radar and should quietly make an impact after sitting out last season.

Did you catch that note on Keon? He’s not alone there.

Borzello also points out Tennessee’s depth, which is going to be a massive strength. Vescovi, Johnson and James could easily go to the bench while Springer and Bailey take over with much falloff, if any. John Fulkerson and Yves Pons finally have proven depth behind them with Anosike in town.

With the way football is going, basketball season can’t get here fast enough. There are still plenty of moving pieces going with this puzzle, but Rick Barnes said last week that he hoped to have a finalized schedule out soon. Stay tuned.