Busting Brackets
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SEC Basketball power rankings: Alabama rises, Kentucky and Arkansas drops

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Robert Morris Colonials at Rupp Arena on November 12, 2021 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Robert Morris Colonials at Rupp Arena on November 12, 2021 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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SEC Basketball Kennedy Chandler Tennessee Volunteers (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
SEC Basketball Kennedy Chandler Tennessee Volunteers (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

7-2. . Volunteers . 4. team. 534.

Tennessee has played the most difficult strength of schedule of any team in the SEC so far with losses to No. 9 Villanova and No. 25 Texas Tech on neutral courts and wins over UNC on a neutral court and at Colorado.

The Vols are ranked first in the SEC in KenPom and second in the NET—No. 10 nationally in both. The metrics love them largely due to their No. 1 ranked defense which has fared well even in their most recent loss to Texas Tech.

As we have come to expect with Rick Barnes coached teams in recent years, offensive struggles have plagued the Volunteers in each of their losses so far, scoring 53 points on 33.3% shooting against Villanova and 52 points on 26.8% shooting against Texas Tech. They shot a combined 11-68 from three in the losses.

The strength of this team is in the backcourt, with five-star freshman Kennedy Chandler (14.6 PPG, 4.9 APG) and junior Santiago Vescovi (13.9 PPG, 3.3 APG). Vescovi had to play point guard each of the last two seasons but has thrived at shooting guard this season as Chandler handles point guard duties. Olivier Nkamhoua has also taken strides in his third year on Rocky Top, averaging 8.1 PPG and 5.8 RPG in just 20.8 MPG. He ranks third on the team in points and rebounds despite being fifth in minutes played.

Defensively, Tennessee has the No. 1 ranked defense in the nation, per Kenpom. Josiah-Jordan James has struggled offensively but is one of the most versatile defenders in the country, ranking second in the SEC in defensive box +/- and fourth in defensive rating. The Vols are one of two teams in the nation alongside UAB that has three players who average 2+ steals per game with JJJ, Chandler, and Vescovi.

Tennessee’s brutal schedule is hardly over as they have upcoming matchups with Memphis as well as an Arizona team that is 9-0 and has looked as strong as any team in the nation. They also have a non-conference trip to Texas in late January. When all is said and done, Tennessee will have played as difficult a schedule as any team in the country.

Offensive issues might bite Tennessee come March yet again, but this team has the talent and defensive ability to win the SEC and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.