Ever since Tennessee became a Basketball School™, it seems like it takes longer and longer for basketball season to come around.
But, it all starts tonight.
With the hype train going full speed into this season, Tennessee basketball has a lot of expectations to meet. Whether they will meet them or not, we will have to wait and see. But, considering they’re returning damn near everyone from last season, this should be a season to remember if everything goes according to plan.
Tennessee will take on three teams at home before the NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament: Lenoir-Rhyne, Louisiana, and Georgia Tech. Here is a brief look at all three:
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 7:00 p.m.
The Bears of Lenoir-Rhyne are coming into 2018-19 following an 11-16 season with a 9-11 conference record in the South Atlantic Conference. They were picked to finish fifth in the preseason SAC coaches’ poll, five spots ahead of the only team Tennessee has played so far, Tusculum.
Lenoir-Rhyne beat Tusculum both times they played last season.
The Bears have two guards selected to preseason all-conference teams: Djibril Diallo to the first team and Cory Thomas to the second team. Diallo averaged 15.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game last season, while Thomas averaged 14.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game.
This game will likely be very similar to the Tusculum game last week. Expect a lot of players to get playing time, and, ideally, Tennessee will finish the game with a comfortable win and no injuries.
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
Friday, Nov. 9, 7:00 p.m.
The basketball team formerly known as the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns will visit Knoxville coming off of a regular season Sun Belt title. They had a 27-7 overall record with a 16-2 conference record in 2017-18. They would go on to lose in the semi-finals of the conference tournament and lose in the first round of the NIT, where LSU’s head coach Will Wade took the time to make an example of them.
Louisiana had one player selected to the all-conference preseason second team: small forward JaKeenan Gant. Gant averaged 13.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season in 815 minutes played.
Last years’ Louisiana team succeeded partially because they had only lost two players from the season before. It also helps that they didn’t really play anybody. They lost to Ole Miss, Clemson, and LSU last season by an average of 18 points. That said, nothing is ever a given in college basketball, but Tennessee should win this one by at least 15.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Tuesday, Nov. 13, 9:00 p.m.
Last season, Tennessee went down to Atlanta and beat Georgia Tech 77-70. This season, Georgia Tech is coming to Knoxville, where Tennessee will look to repeat last season’s result. Georgia Tech finished last year third to last in the ACC with 13-19 overall record and 6-12 conference record.
Georgia Tech doesn’t have anybody selected to the preseason All-ACC team, and they have been picked to finish 13th in the ACC preseason poll. Of note, though, former Tennessee Vol Shembari Phillips now plays for the Yellow Jackets. This will be one of his first few games playing for Georgia Tech.
Again, Tennessee beat Georgia Tech on the road last year, so they should be able to duplicate the result at home. Especially considering Georgia Tech isn’t any better than they were last season. Notably, they don’t have much of a post presence, so look for Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander to have good nights in this one.