The Tennessee Volunteers missed out on the preseason top 25 by a total of four votes to the Baylor Bears (176 to 180). This team will carry that chip on their shoulder for the entirety of the 2013-14 college basketball season.
The Volunteers return one of the most experienced teams in the NCAA. Jordan McRae, who trained with LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the offseason, is set up to have another huge scoring season. With the return of the injured Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes’s decision to not go to the NBA, they have one of the best front courts in the NCAA.
Close losses to Georgetown and Virginia last season helped keep them out of the 2013 NCAA Tournament; this season, the Volunteers’ non-conference schedule isn’t any easier. In non-conference play the Volunteers face the No. 16 Wichita State Shockers, the No. 24 Cavaliers and the Xavier Muskeeters.
If Tennessee can beat the UTEP Miners and either the Iowa Hawkeyes or Xavier in the Battle 4 Atlantis, they could face the No. 3, possibly then No. 1, Kansas Jayhawks in the final. I really think that if Tennessee makes it to the final, they’ll find away to win against Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks.
The most difficult basketball conference in the country from last season got even better in the offseason, and SEC play is going to be extremely difficult. Tennessee, the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Missouri Tigers, the Ole Miss Rebels and the LSU Tigers are all expected to take a few games from the conference favorites, the Kentucky Wildcats and Florida Gators.
The Volunteers are going to have to be focused for every game, or they could lose one or two games to other potential 2014 NCAA Tournament-bound SEC teams.
Tennessee has the type of talent for a legendary NCAA Tournament run, but the question will be on how well they click early in the season. There’s been no doubt during the Cuonzo Martin era that the team was talented, but he’s even said that this is the most talent he’s ever coached. There are no more excuses to not go to the NCAA tournament for the Volunteers.