The Tennessee Volunteers basketball season will get here sooner than later. To pass time and deflect away from the football team’s matchup against No. 1 Alabama this week, I will be ranking the Vols five most important games this upcoming season. The Vols will have one of the tougher schedules in the country, hopefully solidifying the RPI for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
Because of the AP Top 25 Preseason Poll not being released yet, I will be using NBC Sports Top 25 for the time being.
If it wasn’t evident during the past few seasons with Rick Barnes, the Vols are always up for a challenge. They will be up for a number of them this season, as they will have one of the tougher schedules in college basketball. In NBC Sports Top 25, the Vols will play six separate ranked teams, as well as another team on the fringe of the Top 25.
The other teams deserving of an honorable mention here include: Washington, Auburn, Wisconsin, and Cincinnati. All four of those teams have the possibility of being ranked at some point during the season. They all lost a good bit of talent, but thanks to good recruiting classes and highly regarded head coaches, they will be right back in the race.
#5 – LSU
The fifth most important game for the Vols this season will be their matchup against LSU. The Tigers are currently ranked as the 19th best team on NBC Sports Top 25 rankings. They will likely be around the same mark once the AP Top 25 comes out.
Not only is this game important because of what happened during the Tigers and Vols matchup last season, but this will be the first SEC game of the year for Tennessee. Both teams are fairly similar to each other. Both LSU and Tennessee lost a few of their top players, bring back a number of key role players, and also bring in a five-star recruit with a ton of hype surrounding them.
The last year has been a wild ride for the Tigers. They headed into last season underrated but ended up winning the regular-season SEC Title with a 16-2 record. They lost three starters from last year’s team, which included Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, and Kavell-Bigby Williams. Reid and Waters were first and second on the team in points. They also had to deal with their head coach, Will Wade, being involved in the NCAA corruption trials. He ultimately returned to his role after being suspended.
Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams, Marlon Taylor and Darius Days all return from last year’s team. Vol fans should remember Smart and Mays very well. Smart filled in for a sick Waters when the Vols headed down to LSU. Tennessee had no answer for a player who typically came off the bench for the Tigers, as Smart finished with 29 points. Mays shot well for the Tigers that day, scoring 23, which included almost half of those points coming from the free-throw line. Williams, Taylor and Days all played valuable minutes for the Tigers last season.
LSU had the No. 32 2019 recruiting class, one spot behind the Vols. Like Tennessee, they landed three 3-stars and a five-star recruit. Trenton Watford was LSU’s big get of this class, as he comes into Baton Rouge ranked as the 18th best player in the class. Coming in at 6’9″, he was ranked as the fourth-best power forward.
It will be interesting to see how the Vols respond to last year’s loss at LSU. This will be a wild game to start SEC play with.
Stay tuned for more rankings!