1. Tennessee (11-4, 1-1)
Could this be the year it all comes together for Tennessee? This program has largely been in great shape since Rick Barnes came aboard back in 2015, but the postseason is where things have fallen a little flat. Tennessee has had a Top 5 seed in each of the last five NCAA Tournaments but have just two Sweet Sixteen’s to show for their efforts. This defense has been one of the elite units in the nation in recent years and that certainly has continued into this season.
Tennessee has had no shortage of opportunities, including that grueling trip to Maui early in the season. It’s a resume that includes impressive wins against Illinois and Wisconsin but includes a tough three game skid against Purdue, Kansas, and North Carolina. Now clearly those three teams are all national title contenders and the Volunteers have looked strong for most of the season, but they also fell on the road at Mississippi State just a few days ago, just a couple days after ending Ole Miss’s unbeaten season.
Adding Dalton Knecht has done wonders for the Volunteers, who are also leaning heavily on Zakai Zeigler, Jonas Aidoo, Santiago Vescovi, and a long list of contributors. The defense has (mostly) done its part in establishing Tennessee as a contender, even with those tough losses from November. What’s different is that the offense seems more potent and consistent this season, though we’ll see how they handle further road challenges in the SEC.
These SEC teams have only played a couple of games. It’s far too early to make sweeping statements about the SEC race, aside from the things we’ve seen from November and December. We know among these fourteen teams some of the good and the bad, but a lot will still be decided in the weeks ahead. Who knows, these rankings could look drastically different in a few weeks’ time.