Tennessee Hopes to Make Giant Leap Toward Final Four Quest

Willie Bee

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 12:55 PM UTC

Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2018 12:55 PM UTC

Not much was expected from Tennessee heading into last season, but after a strong showing with an SEC regular-season title, the Vols could be poised to break out in 2018-19.

NCAAB Futures: Tennessee

When we think back to the biggest surprises of the college hoops season, Loyola-Chicago naturally comes to mind after an amazing run to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. But consider for a moment that an even bigger surprise was one of the teams the Ramblers beat to get there.

That would be the Tennessee Volunteers, co-champs of the SEC regular season after being picked to finish near the bottom. Rick Barnes’ club eventually fell to Kentucky in the SEC championship game before entering March Madness as a 3-seed, the season ending in the second round when Loyola-Chicago hit a game-winner in the final seconds. The NCAAB odds favored the Vols by 5 in that game, but they made friends with bettors down the stretch by covering 13 of their last 19 regular-season games.

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Next year is here. #GBO pic.twitter.com/PsGL9S0gdj

— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) April 23, 2018

Will Schofield Come Back Or Head To NBA?

The earliest of college basketball futures favor blue bloods such as Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina -- nothing new there. Bovada has the Volunteers further back in the pack at 45/1, and whether or not they can follow through to make for a nice return on a wager might depend on one player returning to Knoxville.

Eligibility rules affect only one player, guard James Daniel III, a grad transfer from Howard who averaged close to 20 minutes per game off the bench. Barnes and his staff are more focused on the 2019 recruiting class than filling Daniel’s slot, and it’s the status of another key contributor that is of greater concern. Admiral Schofield declared for the NBA draft, but did not hire an agent so he can opt to return. Schofield averaged nearly 14 PPG and 6.4 rebounds to team with Grant Williams to form a strong front court. If he does return -- and many believe he will -- it means Barnes will have his top six scorers back in the fold.

Memphis Rivalry Back On Slate & Vols To Face Kentucky Twice

Schools are still working out details for their schedules, but we do know a little about who Tennessee will face on the non-conference portion. The Vols will complete a 4-year contract with Georgia Tech when they host the Yellow Jackets on November 13, and they also have December matchups against Wake Forest (home) and Memphis (away), the game against the rival Tigers the first meeting between the schools since January 2013.

Tennessee is also scheduled to play in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center over the Thanksgiving holiday (Nov. 21, 23) in a field that includes Kansas, Louisville and Marquette. Put me down as hoping the Volunteers meet the Cardinals in one of the games with Chris Mack now in charge of The Ville.

Tennessee has yet to see its SEC fixture, but there are home-and-home dates with Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Once the season arrives, SBR will be on hand with free college basketball picks from the opening tip until the nets are cut down in Minneapolis next April.

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