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Bracketology: Tennessee projected back in the NCAA Tournament field next season

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Technically, Tennessee didn’t miss the NCAA Tournament this season. But they were well on their way to missing the field after a disappointing finish to the season at home against Auburn. The Volunteers ended their season at 17-14 overall, capping a rollercoaster of a rebuilding season with a week featuring a massive upset and a massive disappointment.

However, things should be different next season. Jordan Bowden will be the only senior to move on, leaving Tennessee with John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James as a returning core. But it’s this incoming recruiting class that could make Tennessee special.

Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, two five-star guards, along with four-star wing Corey Walker Jr. should elevate Tennessee to an SEC contender next season, and potentially more. Big man transfer E.J. Anosike further solidifies the Tennessee frontcourt, which was clearly lacking some depth and toughness.

How everything fits together remains to be seen, but the level of talent in Knoxville will most definitely be restored for the 2020-21 season.

Bracketologists are already taking notice. Tennessee has appeared inside of the top 15 of a couple of way-too-early polls for next season. Now ESPN’s Joe Lunardi is already projecting Tennessee as a No. 5 seed in next year’s tournament. Lunardi has Tennessee playing Saint Louis or Arizona State.

After seeing some polls with Tennessee already inside of the top 15, a No. 5 seed feels low. The Vols could rise in these polls as more early entrants into the NBA Draft come out. That remains in question with the status of the NBA season on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak. That’s going to make for a fascinating offseason for programs with NBA talent ready to advance to the next level.

But for Tennessee, everyone should be coming back, creating a loaded roster for Rick Barnes this winter.