Tennessee basketball rises in Joe Lunardi’s bracketology for 2021

ESPN has the Tennessee basketball Volunteers rising for the 2020-2021 NCAA Tournament.

With a top five recruiting class, the addition of E.J. Anosike and the return of all but one key player, there is reason for hype behind Tennessee basketball entering Rick Barnes’ sixth season. The Vols are expected to be loaded.

However, many analysts have had cautious optimism behind the Vols, being careful not to overrate them. Joe Lunardi of ESPN has been doing that consistently. In his bracketology ratings this week, though, he gave them a bump.

Lunardi now has Tennessee basketball as a No. 4 seed in the South Region, facing the Yale Bulldogs in the first round. That is one spot above where he had them back on June 3, when they were a No. 5 seed facing the Furman Paladins in the Midwest Region in the first round.

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The Baylor Bears are Lunardi’s No. 1 seed in the South Region in the bracket he most recently released. UT was one of three SEC teams to rise along with the Arkansas Razorbacks, who are now a No. 8 seed, and the Florida Gators, who are now a No. 6 seed.

With Rocky Top’s rise, they are now tied with the Kentucky Wildcats, who are also a No. 4 seed, as the two highest-seeded SEC teams in Lunardi’s bracket. However, there are seven SEC teams overall. The ones we haven’t mentioned include the Alabama Crimson Tide, the LSU Tigers and the Ole Miss Rebels, who are among the Last Four Byes.

If half the league makes the Big Dance and the Vols are one of the two highest seeds from that league, that’s a big accomplishment. However, given their talent, Barnes is likely hoping that they’ll gel early enough, especially with the experienced guys on the roster, to be a higher seed.

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As we mentioned, Tennessee basketball has lots of hype because of the elite recruiting and the returning veterans, but people are forgetting about the returning veterans. Those guys should give the Vols a bit of a head start over other programs that rely heavily on freshman talent.