4. Tennessee (9-3)
Tennessee has bounced back nicely after a tough stretch at the end of November where they were beaten by Purdue, Kansas, and North Carolina in three straight games. While the Volunteers squandered those resume-building opportunities, they do have nice wins over Wisconsin and Illinois and have now built a decent winning streak.
On Thursday, Tennessee extended that winning streak to 5 games with a 65-46 victory against Tarleton State. While it was one of their weakest offensive showings of the season, the Volunteers’ smothering defense took care of business against the Texans. Zakai Zeigler led the team with 13 points while Josiah-Jordan James had a double-double on a cold-shooting night for the team as a whole.
Obviously, those kinds of offensive performances will be more worrisome in SEC play, but Dalton Knecht and the rest of this lineup won’t be cold every night. Tennessee plays defense as great as any team in the nation and have proven in the last month that they are a capable team. Winning those games in Maui or Chapel Hill would’ve been nice, but there are plenty of opportunities ahead in conference play. For now, their last nonconference test will be Norfolk State, but not until after New Year’s.