Wasn’t their schedule tough enough? Tennessee basketball will face five Power Five teams, four teams likely to be in the preseason top 25 rankings and three teams likely to be in the preseason top 10 rankings in non-conference play alone. That list doesn’t even include the Memphis Tigers.
Now, though, the Vols’ draw in conference play just adds to the brutality of the schedule. The opponents in their 18-game SEC slate were revealed by the league Wednesday, and you can add six more games against teams certain to be in the preseason top 25 games to their slate.
One of those teams is the Kentucky Wildcats, a team they play twice. However, that’s standard for Tennessee basketball, as the Vols play Kentucky, the Vanderbilt Commodores and the South Carolina Gamecocks twice every year.
Still, just Kentucky is one of those teams certain to be in the top 25. One of the other two teams that they will play twice this year is the Arkansas Razorbacks, who are also projected to be in the top 25. The LSU Tigers are the final team they will play twice.
It’s not enough that half of their random draws in playing teams twice is against a top 25 foe, though. They also have to face the Alabama Crimson Tide on the road. Their final game against a certain top 25 team, the Auburn Tigers, is at home.
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When you break down exactly where teams are in the rankings, though, the Vols couldn’t have gotten a tougher draw. Going off early preseason rankings, including those by Jeff Borzello of ESPN and Gary Parrish of CBS Sports, it’s pretty clear that Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky are going to be the three highest ranked teams in the SEC to start the season.
That means UT has to play all three of the projected best SEC teams this year on the road and has to play two of them twice. The Vols are projected behind all three of them to finish fourth in the league, and Auburn is projected to finish fifth, so the one top 25 team in the league that they don’t have to play on the road is the worst of the bunch.
Taking that into account, it’s highly possible that Rocky Top finishes with the toughest schedule in the nation this year. To be fair, Kentucky got an even tougher draw in SEC play since they have to play all four other top 25 teams on the road this year and Alabama and UT twice. Still, the Vols got an insanely tough draw when you combine this with their non-conference slate.
Other road games for Tennessee basketball include the Georgia Bulldogs, Mississippi State Bulldogs and Missouri Tigers. They will also play the Florida Gators, Ole Miss Rebels and Texas A&M Aggies at home.