Tennessee basketball stays No. 10 in ESPN preseason top 25

Yves Pons didn’t move up the Tennessee basketball Volunteers in these 2020-2021 rankings.

Has anybody at ESPN paid attention to Yves Pons’ decision to return for his senior season? That hasn’t done a thing to help Tennessee basketball when it comes to preseason projections from that organization.

One day after somehow dropping in Joe Lunardi’s 2020-2021 Bracketology with that confirmation, the Vols did not move up at all in Jeff Borzello’s preseason Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings. They stayed at No. 10.

It wasn’t like there was no movement. In just the top 10, the Baylor Bears moved up to No. 1, the Gonzaga Bulldogs fell to No. 3, the Illinois Fighting Illini went from unranked to No. 7 and the Kansas Jayhawks fell to No. 8. To be fair, Tennessee basketball still remained the top team in the SEC. Here’s a bit of what Borzello said about them.

Yves Pons was the last player to make his early-entry decision, taking it down to just a couple of hours before the deadline — but his return to Knoxville cements Tennessee as the SEC favorite (depending on Olivier Sarr’s waiver status). Though Rick Barnes would have had the personnel to replace Pons in the rotation, Pons is an elite defender and athlete who can make plays at both ends because of his physical tools.

Borzello projected the starting lineup to be Santiago Vescovi at point guard, five-star freshman Jaden Springer at shooting guard, Josiah-Jordan James at small forward, Yves Pons at power forward and John Fulkerson at center. That would leave high-profile recruits Keon Johnson, a five-star guard, and Corey Walker Jr., a four-star forward, coming off the bench.

Of course, with Sacred Heart Pioneers graduate transfer E.J. Anosike, a double-double machine, and Oregon Ducks transfer guard Victor Bailey Jr. both being eligible this year, there is a ton of talent that won’t be able to be in the starting lineup. That’s a big reason for the hype behind Rick Barnes’ program.

In fact, there’s a chance that none of the freshmen start. What if Barnes decides to play big with Pons at the three, Anosike at the four and Fulkerson at the five? Then he could run James at the two and Vescovi at the one.

Simply put, lots of things could happen with the Tennessee basketball program, and it makes no sense not to move them up after such a crucial decision by Pons to return for his senior season. He adds so much to the team.