Paul Finebaum isn’t known for making basketball headlines, but he made one on Wednesday speaking on Tennessee Basketball. The University of Tennessee graduate declared that the Volunteers would return to the No. 1 spot next year in the polls.
“I got to know Rick 30 years ago when he was an assistant at Alabama and I’ve followed his career throughout. I had such pride last year when this team was number one most of the season, and it showed what this program is capable of. I know this is a transitional year but based on what I’ve heard here today I think Tennessee will be number one again next year.”
He made the claim speaking to the Big Orange Tip-Off Club.
While achieving the No. 1 ranking is a lofty goal, it’s not all that far-fetched considering the recruiting class that Rick Barnes will be bringing in next season. Five-star guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer headline the group, joined by top 50 wing Corey Walker Jr. The class sits in the top five of 247Sports’ class rankings.
Those three will join Santiago Vescovi, who is already showing signs of being a star at this level. John Fulkerson and Josiah James should return, while Yves Pons will likely have an NBA decision to make. Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. will also become eligible next season. Uros Plavsic, Jalen Johnson, Davonte Gaines, Drew Pember and Olivier Nkamhoua are also set to return, though we could see some transfers.
It’s going to be an absolutely loaded roster, possibly featuring more NBA-level talent than we’ve ever seen in Knoxville. How quickly will this team come together? That’s the part we don’t know. But we do know that this is a transitional season for Tennessee, and the bumps in the road that this team has encountered will only make them stronger next year.
Tennessee is probably going to miss the NCAA Tournament this year, but they will certainly have a chance to make a lot of noise next season.