Five Reasons the Vols will win the National Championship

Vols’ strong offensive and defensive efficiency, depth, versatility, and leadership makes them a formidable team poised for a deep run in the NCAA tournament. 

Norfolk State v Tennessee
Norfolk State v Tennessee / Eakin Howard/GettyImages

Throughout the college basketball season, very few teams prove to be serious national championship contenders before we get into March. Rick Barnes' Tennessee Volunteers is one of those teams this year. The Vols might not be undefeated or first in the SEC, but they have shown they don't have to be to get to their first Final Four and National Championship in school history.

The Vols have held steady throughout the season, hanging around the top five in the nation in the AP Poll, KenPom, and ESPN Power Rankings. They have been recognized across the board as one of the best teams in the country and legitimate championship contenders. Barnes has brought in guys that fit his system and coaching style perfectly through a combination of bringing in the right guys through the transfer portal and traditional recruiting. That has resulted in some special moments on Rocky Top throughout this season.

Rick Barnes has the Vols playing more efficiently than ever in his tenure on Rocky Top — from beating Alabama by 20 to putting up over 100 points in a victory at Rupp Arena and, most recently, winning back-to-back games by at least 29 points. The 2019 season was Barnes' best year to date, but the Vols are on pace to outperform that team, led by Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.

This year's BasketVols roster is Barnes' deepest, most efficient, and most versatile team since coming to Knoxville. Tennessee has beaten the best the SEC has to offer so far, and it is becoming increasingly evident that Tennessee is ready to take its shot at the National Championship. Here are five reasons Tennessee basketball will be a legitimate contender when the Vols take the court in the NCAA tournament.

1. Defensive Efficiency

One of the cornerstones of Rick Barnes’ success at Tennessee has been a tough, physical defense. We have yet to see Barnes' defense peak before this year, though, where the Vols rank 5th in adjusted defensive efficiency and have shut down some of the best offenses in the nation this year.

The Vols showed the country what their defense is capable of when matching up against two top-3 offenses. Both Alabama and Kentucky are ranked first and third, respectively, in offense and were expected to run Tennessee out of the gym, but that didn't happen in part due to the Vols' excellent defense.

2. Offensive Efficiency

While the Vols defense has consistently been ranked inside the top-five in recent years, the offense has been far from the top 25. Barnes' adjusted offensive efficiency averages 60th in the nation. Led by Dalton Knecht and Zakai Zeigler, this year’s offense is ranked 15th in adjusted offensive efficiency.

The only other time Barnes had a team ranked inside the top 25 in offensive efficiency was in 2019. Combine that offense level with a top-5 defense, and you have this year's Tennessee Volunteers.

3. Depth

Depth can be the most valuable asset for a national title contender when the NCAA tournament rolls around. The Vols have shown they have the depth necessary to make a deep run and compete for a National Championship. Barnes has at least eight different players he can lean on any given night to provide production on either side of the court. While Knecht has proven he is the biggest offensive threat on the court, the Vols have started to prove they don't need him to score 30 every game to win.

Whether it be starters or role players off the bench, Barnes has a solid group of players who are unafraid to take charge on the court. Since the start of SEC play, the Vols have won every game. Knecht scored less than 20 points.

No matter if it's Zeigler, Santiago Vescovi, or Josiah-Jordan James, the Vols have plenty of guys they can lean on throughout the final stretch of the regular season and into the SEC and NCAA tournaments. Barnes has proven the Vols can keep a high level of play regardless of who is leading the team on offense and defense.

4. Versatility

In previous years, we have expected certain players to produce a certain amount on offense, defense, or both, and if they did not, then Tennessee would most likely lose. That is not the case this year. While we have expectations for each player, they don't have to be held to those expectations every night.

Tennessee has plenty of options to pick up production on both ends of the court, whether offensively or defensively. You never know which player will step up from beyond the arc, down low on defense, or lead the offense during crunch time. Not only does this make each game exciting for us as fans, but it also makes it extremely difficult for opponents to game plan against the Vols.

5. Leadership

One thing every championship roster needs is a leader. Tennessee has multiple. Win or lose, you can find at least one player sticking around after everyone has left to work on an aspect of their game. This has been highlighted increasingly on social media as this team seems to never be content after a win. If you combine that with the experience and leadership Barnes brings each and every day; you have a very special group on Rocky Top competing with the best teams in the nation.

The Vols won the SEC Regular Season Championship and are among the handful of SEC teams that made it to the tournament. While the end-of-season stretch helped prepare Tennessee for the postseason tournament, Tennessee's back-to-back losses to Kentucky and Mississippi State could hurt the Vols more than it helped.

Next. Five Reasons the Vols Won't Win the National Championship. Five Reasons the Vols Won't Win the National Championship. dark

The Vols are gearing up for a first-round matchup against the MAAC Tournament Champions, the Saint Peter's Peacocks. If the Vols can use their strengths to their advantage, we could see a rematch against Purdue later in this tournament.