3rd Year A Charm? A Look At Vol Hoops Non-Conference Schedule
With the revealing of the Battle for Atlantis bracket on Monday, the Tennessee Men’s Basketball non-conference schedule is now complete. I’m going to break down Tennessee’s non-conference schedule and inform you if this years non-conference schedule helps or hurts Tennessee’s chances of making it to the tournament for the first time in three years.
Over the last 8 years, it has been a staple that the Tennessee Men’s Basketball team was going to have a top 10 non-conference schedule every year. Year in and year out the Vols were playing the likes of ranked teams such as Texas (home and away), Kansas (home and away), Memphis (home and away), North Carolina (PreSeason NIT), Gonzaga (home and away), Georgetown (Old Spice Classic), Pittsburgh (home and away) Ohio State (home and away) and Purdue (Paradise Jam) just to name a few of the many.
This year just doesn’t look like the years past. Tennessee’s home non-conference schedule includes N.C State, Virginia, Morehead State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, USC-Upstate, The Citadel (Battle 4 Atlantis) and Tusculum College. Road trips include Xavier and Wichita State and neutral games starting with UNLV. Depending on their performance at the Battle 4 Atlantis neutral opponents could include a matchup with 2 of the following; Xavier, Iowa, Southern Cal, Kansas, Villanova and Wake Forrest.
Could this slight change be good or bad? Lets check it out.
Breakdown: UVA is a quality team from a top conference in the nation with the addition of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. They return ACC player of the year candidate Joe Harris and bring back a strong front line which includes Akil Mitchell and 6’11 Center Mike Tobey.
If you forgot, the Vols slugged it out with UVA in Charlottesville last year to a brutal 46-38 loss which you could say is potentially the one game that Tennessee needed to win to get into the NCAA tourney. Don’t expect Tennessee to have these offensive issues against Virginia this year, I fully expect Tennessee to take full advantage of this game and collect a quality non-conference win. This win would be fantastic to have on their resume heading into the tournament, one of few they can collect with this non conference schedule.
Breakdown: NC State is completely depleted from a year ago losing Lorenzo Brown (left early drafted in 2nd round) CJ Leslie (left early undrafted) Scott Wood (graduated) Richard Howell (graduated) and Rodney Purvis (transferred to UConn).
This is a COMPLETELY different team. Losing 5 of their top 6 scorers from a team that was preseason #6 and a favorite to take the ACC title last year before having a disappointing season where they finished 5th in the ACC and were bounced in the first round of the NCAA tourney by Temple.
Mark Gottfried was able to add 3 top 100 freshman to his roster but I don’t see these 3 having a big enough impact to make a difference in a stacked ACC this year. Tennessee should handle this young NC State team with no issues. For RPI purposes it would be nice if we could have played this specific NC State team on the road or at a neutral site, but the fact they come from a top conference won’t hurt the Vols unless they somehow lose this game.
Breakdown: With Tennessee States leading scorer Robert Covington now gone, Tennessee will need to pray after stomping TSU that they don’t fall too far down the OVC standings away from Belmont and Eastern Kentucky to ensure this game doesn’t affect their RPI negatively.
Breakdown: Another OVC team, nothing special to talk about here. Tennessee needs to win this game and again pray that Tech has a decent showing in their conference.
This is another one of those games that can’t help but only hurt Tennessee’s resume.
Breakdown: Not too sure what the deal is with the OVC infatuation. If you don’t remember, Morehead State under Coach Donnie Tyndall along with stud forward Kenneth Faried (plays for the Denver Nuggets) made 2 NCAA appearances from 2009-2012 along with a couple OVC conference tournament championships.
With the departure of Coach Tyndall to Southern Miss, this isn’t the same Morehead State team. Tennessee should take care of this one as well and same thing goes for Morehead State, we just need them to compete in the OVC and not completely tank this year.
Breakdown: Finished 16-17 last year, Tennessee needs to win this game and hope they have a great year in the Atlantic Sun similar to what Florida Gulf Coast did last year.
Once again, this game doesn’t help Tennessee’s resume…….it can only hurt it.
The Citadel (Battle 4 Atlantis)
Breakdown: This team has been in the 300+ RPI club over the last couple seasons. Tennessee had absolutely no say in scheduling this game, this is something the tournament assigns and it is not going to help the Vols, at all.
Breakdown: To me this makes absolutely no sense. Even though Division II opponents still count as a win, they don’t really affect your strength of schedule.
With the amount of lay-up games Tennessee has scheduled on their home non-conference schedule, Tennessee should have gone out and found another quality opponent to play on a neutral site or on the road.
Breakdown: Chris Macks team is taking a leap into the new Big East this year which includes RPI All Stars Butler, Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova. With the return of stud PG Semaj Christon and some highly touted freshman I fully expect Xavier to be an NCAA tourney team.
Out of the two road games this is the one Tennessee will have the best chance of stealing.
Breakdown: The Shockers return three of their top players from the Final 4 team last year. This group is led by Cleanthony Early who showed out with 24 points and 10 rebounds in the national semifinal. They come back this year as a potential preseason top 25 team.
The Shockers play in a solid Missouri Valley conference and have a tough non-conference schedule. The fact the Vols are playing them on the road can only help Tennessee’s resume. If Tennessee can pull this road win off, and avoiding a complete disaster this is the kind of win that bumps you up a seed or 2.
UTEP (Battle 4 Atlantis)
Led by Tim Floyd this is a must win game for Tennessee so they can be on the winners side of the bracket and potentially play Iowa, Kansas, Villanova or USC to boost their RPI and Strength of Schedule. This is where they can really make some ground on their weak home non-conference schedule.
Don’t get me wrong, its always good to have a few cupcake games on your schedule. The purpose of these games is to work on a few minor things on offense or defense that need attention and also help build confidence. But the fact that Tennessee has 5 or 6 on their schedule worries me.
For the first two years under Coach Martin, Tennessee had two difficult non-conference schedules and they have missed the tournament both of those years. It looks like Coach Martin has scheduled a less aggressive non-conference schedule to compile more wins and build confidence early in the season instead of waiting till the middle of SEC season.
To summarize, Tennessee needs to win at least 2 games they aren’t supposed to and not lose any of the obvious games they are supposed to win. If this happens, our Vols will be back in the dance. This team has the pieces to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament, we just need them to get there first.
Non-Conference W/L Prediction 9-3