The start of the Tennessee season has been delayed by nearly two weeks due to COVID-19 issues within the program. Then the Vols’ first six games were against unranked Colorado, unranked Cincinnati and four under 150 KenPom teams which didn’t really matter much for the most part. So as I continued to rank UT in the top five of the Top 25 And 1 every morning despite not having a big signing win on his resume, various fans regularly questioned him for exactly that reason.
But is anyone questioning it now?
Tennessee played their high-profile first game of the season Wednesday night on the road against an undefeated Missouri team that had previously beaten Illinois and Oregon and was ranked 12th in the Associated Press Top 25. In the simplest terms, the Vols looked awesome. They were leading in double digits under five minutes, led by 13 at halftime and clinched a 73-53 victory. Yves Pons finished with 13 points, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals.
“Yves Pons was great,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “He’s the player we know he can be. If you could have heard the welcome he received when he walked out of the TV interview in the locker room, it would show you the respect his teammates have for him. “
When I picked Tennessee to win the SEC in preseason despite Flights going only 9-9 in the SEC last season, I did so by explaining that they clearly had all three. Biggest ingredients needed to form an elite college basketball team:
- A great and accomplished coach.
- Players who have already produced at the highest level.
- Legitimate NBA talent.
It has all been on display this season. Barnes runs the Vols like something that could become the best defensive team in the country. The top scorer is Victor Bailey, a fourth-year junior. The main rebounder is John Fulkerson, a fifth year senior. Both Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer are five-star high school prospects who are now screened as one-off picks in the first round of the NBA Draft from the Tennessee bench. I repeat, UT has two screened NBA first-round draft picks coming off its bench.
Ultimately, the flights are loaded.
They look like a possible Final Four team.
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Thursday’s Top 25 and 1 ranking
IN: NC state. OUTSIDE: Xavier