On Wednesday the Southeastern Conference announced league opponents for the 2018-19 season, according to secsports.com.
So what does that mean for the Vols?
It means that along with permanent rivals Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina, the Vols will also play Florida and Missouri twice. They also have to travel on the road to face LSU, Auburn, Mississippi and Texas A&M.
Things won’t get any easier for a team trying to expand on the success of a surprising year. The Vols went 26-9 last season and were able to earn a share of the regular season SEC title. Momentum is certainly on the Vols’ side, even after losing to the wicked witch of the . . . Excuse me, the fightin’ Sister Jeans of Loyola-Chicago in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Vols bring back all of their starters as well as co-Sixth Man of the Year Lamonte Turner. Chris Darrington and James Daniel III are the only departures from last year’s squad. Daniel loses eligibility while Darrington has decided to transfer to Toledo due to a crowded backcourt.
Tennessee is ranked number No. 5 in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 poll, according to Austin Nivison from 247Sports. This ranking seems really high and uncomfortable to some people. But this team managed to win a share of the SEC after being picked by the media to finish 13th in the preseason conference rankings.
Their success has certainly raised expectations. The announcement of Admiral Schofield’s return elevates the hype even further. This team will definitely have the pieces to make a serious run. They will have quality depth to go along with All-SEC performers. Barring any major injuries, the Vols shouldn’t have any excuses.
That doesn’t mean the road will be easy. As if playing Kentucky and Florida twice isn’t hard enough, the Vols will also have travel to Baton Rouge and Auburn. Facing Pearl will always be tough, no matter who he has on the roster or where the game is played. The surprise here will be LSU. They return a crafty point guard in Trey Waters, along with two five-star incoming freshman. Will Wade’s young squad showed flashes of potential last season, but fell behind in conference when SEC play progressed. Look for the Tigers to be a dangerous team once these freshmen get acclimated.
Also, the Vols will have to go to Memorial. No matter what kind of Vandy team is present, there is always concern playing on the raised court that has benches behind the baseline. Bryce Drew also welcomes two five-stars into the mix as he hopes to get the Commodores back in the dance just as he did in his debut season.
The Vols were the class of the SEC last season, which is quite a statement when you consider the conference set a record of eight teams in the dance.
Last season was exciting if you’re a Vols fan. Expectations have escalated quickly heading into Rick Barnes’ fourth year. Hopefully the taste of success coupled with a heartbreaking exit will leave these Vols hungry for more. It will be a tough task, even for a team with exceptional talent and experience. Sometimes how you handle success is just as important as dealing with the agony of defeat.
Luckily for this team, they have experienced a little of both.