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Tennessee opens season ranked No. 4 in KenPom

Is this porridge too hot, too cold or just right?

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Indianapolis Photo by Jamie Sabau/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

If you look around, most national media outlets have the 2022-2023 Tennessee basketball team set outside the top-10 in preseason polls. Given the loss of last year’s starting point guard, best player through the end of the Vols’ season and eventual NBA Draft pick — I can see where those folks are coming from.

But Ken Pomeroy, who’s set the standard for college hoops’ new-age, analytically-driven paradigm, disagrees with the national media and has Tennessee as the preseason, fourth-ranked team in the country.

Here’s KenPom’s top-10:

  1. Kentucky
  2. Texas
  3. Gonzaga
  4. Tennessee
  5. Virginia
  6. Baylor
  7. Houston
  8. Kansas
  9. North Carolina
  10. Arizona

Unsurprisingly, there's a strong correlation with top-rated, incoming recruiting classes and KenPom’s top-10. Kentucky finished fourth in 247’s national rankings (and beat out Tennessee for No. 8 overall player Cason Wallace). Texas finished sixth, signing two five-star players (one of which was wing Dillon Mitchell, whom the Vols pursued heavily). The Longhorns also ended up with one of the top transfer-portal point guards in Iowa State’s Tyrese Hunter, who won the Big-12 Freshman of the Year last season. The Vols were actually favored to land Hunter in his re-recruitment, until some snitches came crying about tampering. As is, Hunter chose to play at the lowercase ut instead. And no, I’m not sour about it — why do you ask?

KenPom has Kansas eighth, and 247 ranked their class fourth overall, while UNC is ninth and brought in the 17th-best class in the country. Then Tennessee slides in at No. 4 on KenPom with the 21st-ranked class.

But with KenPom’s rankings, there’s so much more going into the list than incoming freshmen classes and opinions of media members and coaches. Stuff, like, yanno, data, and numbers and math, Adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, adjusted luck and strengh of schedule are a few of the metrics that KenPom factors in when releasing his rankings.

The Vols having the 10th-best offense and second-best defense last year certainly lend credence to KenPom’s ranking, and then Tennessee returns Vol-Navy-style boatloads of production from last year’s team that finished 14-4 in SEC play, won 28 games — including non-conference wins over Arizona and UNC — and finished the pre-NCAA Tournament year winning 12 of its final 13 regular-season games.

A Rick-Barnes, wounded-duck-style gelding in the second round of the NCAA Tournament soured the year’s outlook, but they won the SEC Championship and added five-star forward/ wing freshman Julian Phillips, four-star, instate guard BJ Edwards, four-star wing DJ Jefferson and project post player Tobe Awaka via the recruiting cycle. The key (pun definitely intended) to this team’s ceiling is transfer guard Tyreke Key, an instate guy who spent the last four years at Indiana State, averaging 17, 15 and 17 points per-game, respectively, in his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons. He’s gonna have rust to shake off after missing what would have been his senior season thanks to a shoulder injury, and Rick Barnes is once again going with the “we’ll make this combo guard a point guard, and nothing any of you can do to stop me.”

We’ll see which polls end up being right: national media that have the Vols as a middle-of-the-pack, top-25 team, or KenPom, which says Tennessee is gonna be better than people realize.