A top five recruiting class, the addition of an elite transfer and multiple returning contributors is not enough for some outlets to believe in Tennessee basketball for 2021-2022. Given how Rick Barnes’ program underachieved in 2020-2021, it makes sense, but it’s shocking to see.
The Vols came in at No. 18 in Athlon Sports’ preseason top 25 rankings. Sure, they’re in the top 25, but failing to make the top 15 or even the top 10 would seem like a bit of disrespect given how loaded they are this year.
Even crazier is that these official rankings clearly came before other teams had movement, such as the Memphis Tigers, who didn’t make the rankings despite having two five-stars commit. As a result, Tennessee basketball could even be lower in updated rankings.
Coming off an 18-9 season and a first-round NCAA Tournament exit, you could see why there’s not a lot of faith in the Vols. Barnes has a bad history of underachieving with the one and done talent he brings in, and he’s got two such guys this year in five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler and five-star power forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield.
However, we should note that most teams relying on one and done talent last year struggled, as COVID hindered their development. The Kentucky Wildcats had a losing record, and the Duke Blue Devils missed the NCAA Tournament.
As a result, Barnes should get a break. Also, his calling card has been developing other guys who stay in the program. Well, John Fulkerson is back for a sixth year. Josiah-Jordan James, Victor Bailey Jr., Santiago Vescovi and Olivier Nkamhoua are back for their third years in the program. That’s a solid rotation right there of guys with experience.
SEC teams ahead of Tennessee basketball in the rankings include Kentucky at No. 9 and the Arkansas Razorbacks at No. 10. The Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers came behind them at No. 20 and No. 25 respectively.
Other teams in the ranking on UT’s schedule this year include the Texas Longhorns at No. 5 and Villanova Wildcats at No. 7. UT will also face either the Purdue Boilermakers or UNC in November, and they are No. 11 and No. 12 respectively. Then there’s Memphis, left out of the rankings because their recruiting haul was too late. Simply put, this further shows how brutal UT’s slate is.