This will change when the SEC adds the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners, but every year in SEC play, the format dictates Tennessee Basketball face the Kentucky Wildcats, Vanderbilt Commodores and South Carolina Gamecocks twice. The question comes everywhere else.
Well, next year, the questionable part of the schedule is answered with the most brutal draw possible. UT’s other two opponents that they will play twice, which they rotate among the league every year, are the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Texas A&M Aggies.
A quick look at the most recent way-too-early top 25 by Jeff Borzello of ESPN will tell you that’s about as difficult as it gets for Tennessee Basketball. Outside of the Vols, Alabama and A&M are two of the three other top 25 preseason teams at the moment.
Simply put, the Vols couldn’t draw a tougher random two. Of course, the Arkansas Razorbacks are also in the top 25, and to make it harder, UT just happens to have to face them on the road this year.
Taking all this into account, it would seem that Rick Barnes’ team should be nervous. However, this is exactly what the program needs to beef up its resume for next year’s NCAA Tournament.
If you look at that top 25, you’ll notice Kentucky, who UT plays, is not on there. That’s part of a larger sign of the SEC likely to be down next year, as the Auburn Tigers and Florida Gators are fighting for top 25 recognition too.
Of course, the constant movement in the sport means all this could change by November, but as of now, the leading indicators suggest there’s a fair amount of solid teams in the league but not lots of elite teams. That lessens the opportunity for quality wins.
When it comes to Tennessee Basketball, that’s even worse, as the Vols’ other two foes, Vandy and South Carolina, are major questions. Vanderbilt has made two NIT appearances under Jerry Stackhouse but can’t seem to get over the hump.
South Carolina, meanwhile, was 11-21 last year under first-year head coach Lamont Paris, and if his time with the Chattanooga Mocs is any indication, he doesn’t get things rolling until his third year. That suggests another losing season for them this year.
As a result, the Vols need as many quality wins as they can get, especially with Kentucky down, and that means facing A&M and Alabama twice will be a huge help. Arkansas on the road helps their BPI rankings too.
Barnes still has a solid collection of non-conference games with the Wisconsin Badgers, Illinois Fighting Illini, N.C. state Wolfpack and Maui Invitational, so Tennessee Basketball will be fine. They needed those tougher SEC games on their slate this year too, though, and they got them.