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Tennessee basketball jumps up in way too early top 25 rankings

Are they a top ten team?

Louisiana v Tennessee Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Tennessee basketball ended the season on a sour note, losing in the Sweet 16 to FAU. By the end of the year, nobody had any real expectations for the Volunteers, especially after they lost Zakai Zeigler in the final week of the regular season. An upset win against Duke in the round of 32 had fans back on board, but it was quickly derailed by the red hot Owls.

We’ve seen this core get bounced out of two straight NCAA Tournaments, and frankly some roster churn probably wouldn’t be the worst thing. Just a couple weeks removed from the NCAA Tournament loss, we got that churn. Tennessee added a couple of big targets out of the portal, landing Chris Ledlum and Dalton Knecht. They also picked up sharpshooter Jordan Gainey. Those three additions signaled the likely departure of James and Phillips.

2023 Tennessee Basketball Roster Changes

Out: PF Olivier Nkamhoua, SG Tyreke Key

Likely Out: C Uros Plavsic, SG Josiah-Jordan James, SF Julian Phillips

Portal Additions: F Chris Ledlum, SG Jordan Gainey, SG Dalton Knecht

Class of 2023: G Freddie Dilione, C JP Estrella, SG Cameron Carr, PF Cade Phillips

That work on the roster also restored some expectations for next season. Tennessee has moved from a fringe top 25 team all the way up to a top ten squad for now, at least according to one outlet. Here’s what ESPN’s Jeff Borzello had to say on the Volunteers.

Tennessee is certainly one of the biggest portal winners of the offseason thus far, landing Jordan Gainey (South Carolina Upstate), Chris Ledlum (Harvard) and Dalton Knecht (Northern Colorado), while also getting all-SEC guard Santiago Vescovi back for another year. The Volunteers should have more perimeter pop than they’ve had the past few seasons, combined with what should be an elite defense when Zakai Zeigler is healthy.

Zeigler is the wildcard there. Rick Barnes says he could be back to start the season, but it’s very possible that he’ll miss some parts of the early season. Regardless, the Volunteers should be back to full strength by SEC play.

Can Barnes find success in the portal? That’s the key here. In year’s past he’s struck out with guys like EJ Anosike and James Daniel, while getting marginal production from Victor Bailey Jr. and Tyreke Key. Assuming Tennessee does lose James and Phillips, he’ll need Knecht and Ledlum to come in a play as advertised.

If he does get that, Tennessee forms a pretty potent core with Vescovi and Zeigler coming back into the fold.