The Tennessee Volunteers are loaded, and it’s no secret. Expectations are high for this season, with Rick Barnes armed with perhaps his best roster since arriving in Knoxville. Pretty much the entire core from last season’s Sweet 16 team is back, Zakai Zeigler is back from an ACL injury, and big-time transfers Dalton Knecht and Jordan Gainey appear set to give the Volunteers the shooting that they’ve desperately been missing.
Tennessee beings the year ranked No. 9 in the preseason AP Poll. They’ve been picked to win the SEC, but some in the media think their ceiling is much, much higher.
Three out of four analysts at ESPN have predicted Tennessee to go to the Final Four. John Gasaway, Joe Lunardi and Jeff Borzello think the Volunteers will advance to their first Final Four in school history.
Borzello: Kansas*, Michigan State, Tennessee, Baylor
Gasaway: Kansas*, Purdue, Tennessee, Creighton
Lunardi: Kansas*, Purdue, Duke, Tennessee
Medcalf: *Houston, Kansas, Purdue, Michigan State
Tennessee has only ever been to the Elite Eight once, coming back in 2010.
Former Virginia Tech head coach and current ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg took things a step further on Tuesday. Greenberg picked Tennessee to win the National Championship.
Seth Greenberg picks Tennessee Basketball to win the National Championship pic.twitter.com/BXQxHEXQ4N— More Important Issues (@More_Issues) November 8, 2023
Per DraftKings Sportsbook, Tennessee has the ninth-best odds to cut down the nets at +2000.
There wasn’t a ton of national chatter about Tennessee until late in the preseason. We all saw the depth of this roster all summer long, and we all knew what a couple of sharpshooters could do for this offense. The rest of the country got up to speed when Tennessee took a trip to East Lansing and knocked off Michigan State in a charity scrimmage.
Tennessee will be tested early and often over the next several weeks. That starts on Friday with a trip to Wisconsin. It will continue in Honolulu, where Tennessee could face the likes of Kansas, Purdue, Marquette, Creighton, UCLA, Gonzaga and Syracuse in the relocated Maui Invitational. A trip to North Carolina, a neutral site meeting with NC State and a home game against Illinois will follow. We’ll find out very quickly if the hype is real with this group.
“I think since he is a good friend of mine, let’s put pressure on him: That is a Final Four team,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said after his team’s loss to Tennessee. “I really believe that. I really do.”
Barnes’ struggles in March have been well-documented, but this loaded, veteran roster certainly has the potential to get him over the hump.