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Tennessee moves up in ESPN’s latest way-too-early top 25

Long way to go, but the Volunteers will be ready for another run.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Championship-Texas A&M vs Tennessee Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Following the addition of five-star wing Julian Phillips, Tennessee has moved up in the latest version of ESPN’s way-too-early top 25. The Volunteers are all the way up to No. 12 in the update, more than ready to chase another SEC championship this season.

Even after losing Kennedy Chandler to the NBA Draft and seeing John Fulkerson’s eligibility expire, Tennessee will return Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James and Zakai Zeigler. Adding Julian Phillips, veteran sharpshooter Tyreke Key and getting back a healthy Olivier Nkamhoua will have the Vols near the top of the SEC once again.

Here’s ESPN’s Jeff Borzello on Tennessee.

“It will be interesting to see if Rick Barnes goes away from two-big lineups this season. The addition of five-star recruit Julian Phillips gives the Volunteers another versatile wing forward option to go alongside Josiah-Jordan James. And with Zakai Zeigler likely to run the show next to first-team All-SEC returnee Santiago Vescovi, Barnes is going to want his four best players on the floor for the majority of the game. It’s likely he opts for more of what he did in 2020-21, with 6-6 Yves Pons in the frontcourt next to James and only one big. That should leave a lesser role for 7-footer Uros Plavsic, while also putting more on the plate of Olivier Nkamhoua, who started 22 games before a left ankle injury sidelined him for the rest of last season. The Finland native had 15 points against both Texas A&M Aggies and Alabama, and was a good defensive rebounder and interior defender.” — Jeff Borzello, ESPN

Borzello brings up an interesting point, something that has been at the front of my mind since Phillips committed to Tennessee. What’s this lineup going to look like? The Volunteers seem to be headed down a smaller route, with Phillips and Triple-J manning the three and four. There will obviously be some tinkering and perhaps some experimenting early in the season, too. Jonas Aidoo and Uros Plavsic will also have roles, and it’s going to be interesting to watch all of this shake out.

However, this will be Vescovi, James and Zeigler running the show. That experience returning is huge, and adding an NBA talent like Phillips — one with size, shooting and athletic ability — gives Tennessee some real upside.

All the fun gets going at some point in early November. It should be another fun season.