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Tennessee basketball: A missed measuring stick

A COVID blunder and a missed opportunity

Tennessee Volunteers’ basketball was slated to begin its season the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving against the Charlotte 49ers. It would’ve been the first game in what many believe to be a promising season — a year in which the Vols are starting the year ranked 12th in the nation and are being led by seniors John Fulkerson and Yves Pons.

The UNC-Charlotte matchup, as well as the subsequent Volunteer Classic games, would’ve served as a tuneup to a mix of challenging non-conference games before the squad embarks on a run to try to capture the Southeastern Conference title. It’s unclear what the non-conference rescheduling will look like for Tennessee, and the hope is that there will be strong competition for the Vols to face — but one thing’s for certain: There won’t be a a December 2nd matchup against the number one ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs, an absolute juggernaut of a team in a year when many schools are likely to stumble out of the gate finding their footing.

As of this writing, the Zags have played two games and are 2-0. That includes a 102-90 victory over the sixth ranked Kansas Jayhawks and a 90-67 thumping of the Auburn Tigers. While it’s likely true that Tennessee would’ve been outmatched in this game, it would help to set a measuring stick for how the squad ends the season.

It would also potentially setup a compelling tournament matchup. If the Vols were able to hold their own in round one, then it’s all bets off for who takes game two. But if Tennessee struggled in the first match, it would be interesting to see how much the team has grown and whether or not they can compete with the best team in the nation.

But thanks to COVID-19, that matchup is no more. You can cross the December 4th game against Notre Dame off the schedule, as well. Tennessee is now tentatively marked to begin the season December 12th against the Cincinnati Bearcats, a team expected to finish fourth in the conference.

While Cincy won’t be the same challenge that a team like Gonzaga would’ve posed, it will be no easy task for the Vols to jump off the bench and begin the season against the Bearcats.

We’ll see if the athletic department is able to arrange a few more non-conference games, but as it currently stands, Tennessee will take on Appalachian State, Tennessee Tech, and South Carolina Upstate before transitioning into SEC play on December 30 with a road trip to take on the Missouri Tigers.

It’s unlikely that we’ll see the Gonzaga game show back up on the schedule, but there’s still hope to be had: Tennessee will take on Kansas January 30th in what should be a compelling matchup after both teams have had a chance to work out any problems in their respective teams. No, it’s not Gonzaga, but it’ll do.