5. Tennessee (11-3)
Elite defense has been a calling card of the Volunteers in recent years but Tennessee is no one-trick pony. This team has the ability to play stellar offensive basketball, as evident already in big wins over Illinois, Wisconsin, and NC State this season. All three of their losses came against national contenders back in November and the Volunteers continued their roll this week into the new year.
One final nonconference matchup saw them handle Norfolk State 87-50 back on Tuesday. Zakai Zeigler had 17 points while Dalton Knecht added 15. SEC play began for the Volunteers on Saturday and they got started in style. Tennessee welcomed unbeaten Ole Miss to town and handed the Rebels their first loss in a 90-64 contest. Jonas Aidoo was marvelous with 24 points and 10 rebounds, Zeigler had 17 points and 10 assists, and the team as a whole put together a phenomenal effort to start 1-0 in league play.
Few teams in the nation had a nonconference schedule quite like Tennessee, and it certainly outclasses their conference rivals. We’ve seen the good and bad from the Volunteers, who not only remain an elite defensive unit but have had more success on the other side, especially with the addition of Knecht this season. The Volunteers get deeper into conference play next week with road dates against Mississippi State and Georgia.