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Ranking The Toughest Non-Conference Games On Tennessee Basketball’s 2019-20 Schedule

Vols basketball

On Tuesday, CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein tweeted out the lineup for the 2019-20 edition of the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge, according to his sources.

In addition to marquee matchups such as: Texas Tech vs. Kentucky, Texas vs. LSU and Oklahoma vs. Mississippi State, there happens to be one game that caught the attention of Tennessee fans.

Yes, the Vols will make the trip to Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence to take on the Kansas Jayhawks. Oh, man.

On Thursday, Rothstein’s report was confirmed. The Vols will travel to face the Jayhawks on Jan. 25, 2020.

It will be Tennessee’s first visit to KU since Jan. 3, 2009 when a Bruce Pearl-led squad consisting of Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism, Scotty Hopson and more lost 92-85.

So, with this addition to an already loaded 2019-20 schedule, it is time we look at just how daunting year five of Rick Barnes’ tenure will be. Here are the five toughest non-conference games on Tennessee’s schedule.

5.) Wisconsin – Dec. 28

Associated Press

The first part of an exciting home-and-home series will tip-off after Christmas as Tennessee will host a perennial contender from the Big Ten in Wisconsin. The Badgers made a trip to the NCAA Tournament and finished fourth in a loaded conference last season behind the play of Ethan Happ.

While the Badgers aren’t projected to be ranked in the preseason polls, Greg Gard’s teams are known for a physical, ugly style that is to be respected. Tennessee will make the return trip to Madison in November 2020.

4.) vs. Washington (in Toronto) – Nov. 16

Tennessee Athletics

Notable neutral-site games early in the season have become a staple under Barnes and this will be the next chapter. Taking place as part of the James Naismith Classic at Scotiabank Arena, Tennessee will be travelling to the Great White North to the home of the defending NBA Champion Toronto Raptors and Drake to take on the defending Pac-12 Champions, Washington.

Whatever notion the public has about Pac-12 teams aside (they only had three teams in the NCAA Tournament field last season), the Huskies will be a legit test for the Vols. Despite losing Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Matisse Thybulle to the NBA Draft, Washington will have a reloaded roster featuring two five-stars in C Isaiah Stewart and PF Jaden McDaniels.

3.) vs. Florida State (Emerald Coast Classic) – Nov. 28

Tennessee Athletics

As part of the multitude of season tip-off tournaments, Tennessee will be in Northwest Florida as part of the Emerald Coast Classic. While the Vols could have another tough matchup in the following game of the tournament against either VCU or Purdue in a Sweet 16 rematch, Tennessee will be facing a great FSU squad in its own backyard.

The Seminoles won 29 games in ’18-’19 and made a trip to the Sweet 16 to cap off the year. FSU has been a giant-killer in nearly 20 seasons under Leonard Hamilton, regularly taking down ACC foes like Virginia, Duke and UNC. So, they are an opponent that will be a tough task.

2.) Memphis – Dec. 14

Now, we are getting into the monumental matchups of the schedule.

Tennessee and Memphis fans don’t need any refreshers on the bad blood that resulted from the end of last season’s renewal of the Tennessee-Memphis rivalry, a 102-92 victory for the Vols at FedExForum. However, just in case:

A small incident between Jordan Bone and Memphis’ Alex Lomax which resulted in a double-technical turned into unproven allegations by Tigers coach Penny Hardaway that Tennessee players were ready to fight with “fists balled.” This led to proven allegations that Memphis players were flopping throughout the game which led to jokes from Barnes on Vol Calls the following week, which then led to Hardaway taking some sour grape-fueled shots at Barnes.

You can find a summary here.

Oh yeah, this rivalry is back in a big way.

In the second of three games of the renewed series, the Tigers make their first trip to Thompson-Boling Arena since 2013. Not only will the Vols have to replace the majority of their production in last season’s win over Memphis (29 points from Admiral Schofield, 19 from Grant Williams, 17 from Bone), they will also be faced with a new-look Memphis team that is stocked with elite talent.

The 2019 Memphis recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in the country according to 247Sports and will feature consensus five-stars: C James Wiseman (No. 1 overall) and SF Precious Achiuwa (No. 14), as well as top-60 players G Boogie Ellis, PF DJ Jeffries and SG Lester Quinones.

Fans already knew that there would be a score to settle the next time these two programs faced off. Now, it could be one of the games that defines Tennessee’s season.

1.) at Kansas – Jan. 25

Sarah Stier/Getty Images

“Pay heed all who enter: beware of THE PHOG

They don’t have that sign hanging above five national championship banners at Allen Fieldhouse for nothing. The Jayhawks’ home is one of the grand cathedrals of college basketball and one of the best home-court advantages in the sport. KU has won 21 straight at home and coach Bill Self has a 202-11 home record in 16 seasons in Lawrence.

Despite a more inexperienced Tennessee team that Barnes will be bringing to Kansas, there’s precedent that this game could be an instant classic. The last two meetings between these schools have been anxiety-filled. Last season, the No. 2 Jayhawks took down the No. 5 Vols 87-81 in overtime in the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship Game in Brooklyn. Back in 2010, a short-handed Tennessee team shocked the nation by taking down No. 1 Kansas 76-68 which was put away by then true freshman walk-on former Rutledge High School star Skylar McBee.

This looks to be, arguably, the most-anticipated game of next season’s Big 12/SEC Challenge and it will be a measuring stick game for the new-look Vols.

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