In July, we wrote two articles about the Tennessee Lady Vols’ schedule. The first was about their home schedule, as both teams playing for the national championship will head to Rocky Top plus three other NCAA Tournament teams in just non-conference play: the Virginia Tech Hokies, UCF Knights and Indiana Hoosiers.
A week later, we wrote that their non-conference schedule was setting them up for the toughest schedule in the nation. They added as trip to the Ohio State Buckeyes and still have a trip to the Stanford Cardinal, a third Final Four team, along with the Battle 4 Atlantis, which includes the Louisville Cardinals, a fourth Final Four team.
Even with that brutal slate, it’s now tougher than it looks. The full non-conference schedule for the Tennessee Lady Vols with dates was finally released Thursday, and beyond just the brutal slate of elite teams they play, Kellie Harper’s team even shot high for those games you might call circled wins.
The trip to Ohio State is the season-opener and follows an exhibition matchup with the Carson-Newman Eagles. Immediately after that, though, they host the UMASS Minutewomen. Last year, UMASS made the NCAA Tournament. Well, they return every starter plus every rotational player.
Not only is everybody back, but they added three transfers: Piath Gabriel of the UConn Huskies, Kristin Williams from Pensacola State College and Laila Fair of the Saint Joseph’s Hawks. Williams averaged double figures at Pensacola State, and Gabriel brings prestige just coming from UConn.
However, Fair is a huge addition. She averaged over eight and a half points and over four and a half rebounds at a school in the same conference last year and was on the 2022 Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team, so she is expected to be a star this year. Lilly Ferguson, a freshman, was also added. UMASS may be a top 25 team.
Now, two other circled wins aren’t as good, as the Eastern Kentucky Colonels and Wright State Raiders both had losing records last year. However, they are entering their second seasons under their current head coaches, so you could feasibly believe they’ll take a step forward.
Then there are the Wofford Terriers. They are coming off their best season in Division I history last year, going 17-14, and they return their two leading scorers while also adding USC Upstate Spartans transfer Rachel Rose, who averaged double figures last year. That makes them an NCAA Tournament contender.
Taking all of this into account, the Tennessee Lady Vols only have three teams on their non-conference slate who aren’t all but a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, and they only have two teams who are more likely than not to miss it. However, all of them could make it.
As a result, this schedule is historically tough. When you factor in what’s expected of this team given all the talent it has added in the offseason, maybe this is what they need. Credit Harper for not running from anything. They will certainly be ready when March arrives.