Basketball season is getting closer, and the Vols have a complete rebuilding year ahead of them (click here, for part one, and here, for part two of my article series looking at what all the Vols will be tasked with replacing this upcoming season). The good news, though, is that a number of teams in the SEC are also replacing most of their production, or will be under a new head coach in the 2019-2020 season. In my last piece, we looked at the Vols’ Non-Conference Schedule for the upcoming season, as well as talked about each game and what I thought the results would be. Let’s take a look at the second portion of the schedule. REMINDER: Per me, the Vols will be 9-3 heading into the games you will read about below!
-1/4/2020 vs. LSU
-My thoughts: LSU did lose Naz Reid and Tremont Waters to the NBA, but they keep a couple of solid pieces from last years team, namely Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart, the latter of the two who had his big coming out party against our Vols last season. Also, they add 5 Star Forward Trendon Watford (#18 player overall/#4 PF per 247), who may replace Reid’s production (13.6 pts, 7.2 reb).
Will Wade has voiced his concerns that this LSU squad is lacking the same amount of toughness and grit as last season’s Tigers squad, which was what made them the team they were. He also questions their attention to detail. While this is preseason coach-speak, I think the Bayou Bengals look much different this season; less polished and less athletic.
-1/7/2020 @ Missouri
-My thoughts: I am not one of the U.T. fans that dislikes Cuonzo Martin. I think he is good (not great), and believe Rick Barnes is a much better coach. That being said, we all know how difficult it is to predict the outcomes with a Martin coached squad.
The most important addition to Mizzou’s team is transfer Dru Smith, who makes his way to CoMo via the Evansville Purple Aces (what a killer mascot). Smith put up impressive stats last year [13.7 pts, 4.6 ast, 2.0 stl w/ a 3pt% at 48%]. While the competition is going to be much tougher in the SEC compared to his previous MVC foes, I still think this guy is going to come in and turn heads.
-1/11/2020 vs. South Carolina
-My thoughts: South Carolina lost its most recognizable players from the last couple of years in Chris Silva and Hassani Gravett heading into the 2019-2020 season. While they return big man Malik-Kalev Kotsar (hasn’t he been in Columbia since the 90’s?) as a veteran on the team, their roster is packed with freshmen and sophomores, and I don’t think this squad will be near as good as their teams in the recent past.
-1/15/2020 @ Georgia
-My thoughts: UGA was absolutely awful last season. Somehow, they landed Anthony Edwards (#2 player overall per 247). He is a player who could easily beat some teams by himself. Playing in the Stege-saurus [Stegeman Coliseum] has always made me feel uneasy for the Vols. While our current roster is more talented that Georgia’s, I don’t think we have a consistent answer for Edwards in this one.
I hate saying one player will make all of the difference, but after watching his film and highlights, I can see him being one of those players that can beat any team on any night pretty much on his own. He is a matchup nightmare, and PERHAPS the number one pick in next year’s NBA Draft.
-1/18/2020 @ Vanderbilt
-My thoughts: Not going to waste your time here. We beat Vandy over in Memorial (SPOILER: We beat them in Knoxville, too.) Aaron Nesmith and Saben Lee are good players, but I am struggling to find another player on this year’s roster that would get solid
minutes on another SEC teams roster. While next year may be different as former NBA journeyman Jerry Stackhouse has taken over in Nashville (and he will pull in the recruits), the flux that the program is currently in will make for another dissapointing season in the mid-state (for Vandy fans). I, for one, absolutely love beating them.
-My prediction/running record: Win (Overall: 13-4, SEC: 4-1)
-1/21/2020 vs. Ole Miss
-My thoughts: Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis had a true career resurgence when he was at MTSU between 2002-2018. After a 2017 where he won C-USA Coach of the Year, Davis left his rookie season in the SEC as 2019 Coach of the Year (for any of you who are keeping tabs at home, that was his 4th Coach of the Year award from 4 different conferences- pretty impressive). Aside from him, the Rebels also still have the SEC’s leading returning scorer from last season Breein Tyree.
-1/25/2020 @ Kansas [Big 12/SEC Challenge]
-My thoughts: Last year, our early season game with Kansas was one of the first times I knew our team was going to be special. With a lineup that will feature Devon Dotson, Silvio De Sousa, and Udoka Azubuike, Kansas is going to be a tough out for any team, and very much a National Championship contender.
-1/28/2020 vs. Texas A&M
-My thoughts: Buzz Williams will make a difference in College Station in the future, but this year the Aggies are going to take their lumps. Savion Flagg will have another good season, and will likely be the anchor for the team and repeat as the team’s leader in rebounding and scoring (13.9 pts, 7.7 reb).
-2/1/2020 @ Mississippi State
-My thoughts: Stop me if you have heard this before; The best player on Mississippi State’s team is a Weatherspoon. While only one is there this year, Nick (Quinndary is now in the NBA), the Bulldogs have a chance to have a good one-two punch with he and Sophomore Reggie Perry playing together.
-2/4/2020 @ Alabama
-My thoughts: New head coach Nate Oats has already proven that he can recruit his own players; he talked both Kira Lewis, Jr. and John Petty out of the transfer portal. He has also shown he can land a transfer-Jahvon Quinerly landed in Tuscaloosa via Villanova. While his eligibility status is still up in the air, Lewis, Jr. and Petty are two very good basketball players. Add Quinerly to the mix, you could be looking at an SEC Championship contending team.
-2/8/2020 vs. Kentucky
-My thoughts: This year’s Wildcats are going to look a little different. Head Coach John Calipari has a few returners on the roster, and most of them are good players. I don’t think U.K. is necessarily a NATIONAL Championship contender this year, but they are a Conference Championship contender.
Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery will be the best front-court duo in the SEC. That is what will give Tennessee the most trouble in this matchup. HOWEVER, Tennessee has proven something to me in the last few years; we beat Kentucky. I think U.K. is much too good to be swept by the Vols this year, but I do think we split the series.
-2/11/2020 vs. Arkansas
-My thoughts: Like U.K., I believe Arkansas is another team we will split the season series with. Eric Musselman has brought in a handful of transfers and effectively turned the roster over. It is hard to see this Razorbacks team coming together too strongly, so I say we beat them in TBA.
-My prediction/running record: Win (17-7, 8-3)
-2/15/2020 @ South Carolina
-My thoughts: As above, so below. With Kotsar being the only returner I would really worry about, and UNC transfer Seventh Woods not being available until next year, U.T. will walk into Colonial Life with confidence and walk out with a win.
-My prediction/running record: Win (18-7, 9-3)
-2/18/2020 vs. Vanderbilt
-My thoughts: As I pointed out earlier in the article, we beat Vandy. TBA always gets a little more raucous for rivalry games, and I think we sweep the Commodores. They will finish 2019-2020 towards the bottom of the SEC.
-My prediction/running record: Win (19-7, 10-3)
-2/22/2020 @ Auburn
-My thoughts: On a lot of the preseason projections I have seen, Bruce Pearl’s Tigers are picked to finish in the top quarter of the conference. I for one do not buy this.
They will still live and die by the three (they lived by it last year making it all the way to the Final Four), but that is not a sustainable plan of success. Also, take a look at the list of players that Auburn will have lost from that 2018-2019 season; Cole Blackstock, Bryce Brown, Malik Dunbar, Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke, and Horace Spencer. If you can name any other players from last year’s team, you watch entirely too much Auburn basketball.
-2/26/2020 @ Arkansas
-My thoughts: I’ve already discussed how I feel about Arkansas. We have a more talented roster, but I never feel confident going into Fayette-Nam and winning on the hardwood. 40 Minutes of Hell will prove to still be a thing (somehow), and the Vols will start this final stretch of games with a loss to the Hogs.
-My prediction/running record: Loss (20-8, 11-4)
-2/29/2020 vs. Florida
-My thoughts: Florida. Florida, Florida, Florida. Mike White has added five stars Scottie Lewis (#7 player overall per 247) and Tre Mann (#21 player overall/#2 PG per 247) to the program. Andrew Nembhardt is one of the more impressive returning sophomores in the SEC. And who can forget that the Gators won the Kerry Blackshear, Jr sweepstakes?
I said outright that whoever (U.F., U.K., or U.T.) landed Blackshear, Jr. was going to also win the SEC. Ergo, I think Florida will win the SEC. I think in our one matchup with the Gators this year, we lose.
-3/3/2020 @ Kentucky
-My thoughts: As I mentioned earlier, I think we split with the Cats this year. I think it is more likely that we lose at Rupp (and with Rupperees, that only makes me more apt to say that) than in TBA. So in our penulimate game of the season, I believe we drop this one in Lexington.
-My prediction/running record: Loss (20-10, 11-6)
-3/7/2020 vs. Auburn
-My thoughts: We beat Auburn in our finale! Again, Auburn’s returning roster and their incoming players are not impressive. Now could they again go on a 3 point shooting spree and stay hot? Yes. But I am not a believer in lightning striking twice, and last year Auburn caught it in a bottle. I always love winning the home finale and sending the seniors out with a regular season W, and it will be good to see it this year.
-My prediction/running record: Win (21-10, 12-6)
So there you have it. I think The Vols hit the 20 win mark in the 2019-2020 season, and earn a trip to the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid. We may not reach the number one ranking or ever really crack the top ten this upcoming season, but making the tournament at all will be a solid accomplishment for Rick Barnes and this team! Finally, the future of this team is looking pretty bright if you look at the next cycle’s recruits!
Be sure to check out all of the great content from the rest of the writers/fellow Vol fans over at MoreImportantIssues! Until Next time…Bye!
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