Basketball season is right around the corner, and because we Vol fans may be engrossed in how bad this football season has started, I figured we could all use a little break from the gridiron talk. UT recently released the full 2019-2020 Men’s basketball schedule, and there are plenty of intriguing match-ups. As promised in my two part series concerning the new-look Vols (Click here for part one, and here for part two), I am going to go game by game and look at what is upcoming, and try my hand at predictions for each contest’s final result. We will first take a look at the non-conference schedule!:
10/30/2019 vs. Eastern New Mexico [Exhibition]
-My thoughts: The Greyhounds of Eastern New Mexico had just under a .500 record in 2018-2019 (13-14), and lost a number of their most productive players. While only an exhibition game, I look for us as fans to get a good look at most of, if not all of, the players we will see in action during the regular season barring injuries. We have A LOT of new faces and names to learn, and this will be a good game to start on.
-My prediction/running record- Win (0-0)
-11/5/2019 vs. UNC Asheville
-My thoughts: The Bulldogs won a whopping 4 games last season- St. Andrews Presbyterian (NAIA), Milligan (NAIA), USC Upstate x2 (Big South, 6-26 in 2018-2019). While they do have a lot of production returning from young players [over 75% of UNCA’s total minutes in 2018-2019 were logged by freshmen, and 90% by sophomores or freshmen], I do fully expect Tennessee to take care of business. Of note, first year Bulldogs HC Mike Morrell is a native of Elizabethton, Tennessee- so there is a quick connection- kind of.
-My prediction/running record: Win (1-0)
-11/12/2019 vs. Murray State
-My thoughts: Boy am I glad that Ja Morant isn’t playing for the Racers any longer. Last year’s Ohio Valley Conference Regular Season Co-Champions and Conference Tournament Champions are going to look much different without a lottery pick on the team. I don’t foresee them getting close to 2018-2019’s 28-5 record. Even though Racers’ Forward/Center Darnell Cowart is one of my favorite players in NCAA basketball, I see the Vols winning number two to open the regular season.
-My prediction/running record: Win (2-0)
-11/16/2019 vs. Washington [James Naismith Classic in Toronto, Ontario, Canada]
-My thoughts: Kind of like Murray State, Washington is replacing some pretty impressive pieces from their 2018-2019 squad. With defensive stalwart Matisse Thybulle and reigning PAC-12 Player of the Year Jaylen Nowell now in the NBA [PAC-12 Honorable Mention Noah Dickerson is also playing professionally overseas], the Huskies are going to be looking for production from new faces, much like the Vols.
Washington enters the 2019-2020 season after hauling in some studs on the recruiting trail. The 247Sports #11 class was highlighted by Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, who are both 5-star and top-10 national prospect (per 247) frontcourt players, and RaeQuan Battle, who is a 4-star (per 247) shooting guard. The good news? We catch them early in the season. The bad news? They out-talent us.
In the Vols’ first big test of the season, I think we fall to the boys from Seattle in a close one, and it will most likely be on a big stage. (Sidenote: Former highly touted guard and one-time Kentucky Wildcat starter Quade Green will join the Huskies midway through the season. Look for U-Dub to be a National Championship contender/dark-horse once March rolls around.)
-My prediction/running record: Loss (2-1)
-11/20/2019 vs. Alabama State
-My thoughts: The Hornets from the SWAC finished last season with a 12-19 record and a middle of the road finish (6th) in their conference. Houston Native Reginald Gee is a player to watch in this one. The junior guard averaged 15.5 points and shot 40.5% from downtown during his sophomore season, leading the team in both categories. Still, Tennessee should walk away from this one victorious.
-My prediction/running record: Win (3-1)
-11/25/2019 vs. U.T. Chattanooga
-My thoughts: The Mocs picked up a transfer this past off-season in Trey Doomes who comes in from West Virginia University. The NCAA approved his waiver for immediate eligibility, and the little school a little south of Knoxville is looking for him to be a big part of their potential success. Doomes has already shown he is one of the more talented players on Coach Paris’s squad, and really turned heads (his coaches’, not the worlds’) in the Mocs’ pre-season trip to/exhibition series in the Bahamas. I think we get this one done, too. But this will be one of the last “gimmes” on the schedule.
-My prediction/running record: Win (4-1)
-11/29/2019 vs. Florida State [Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida]
-My thoughts: Effectively, this will be the Vols’ first road game (FSU’s campus is only 150 miles from Niceville, and Knoxville is close to 500 miles). Florida State is losing some big-time players from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team; Terrance Mann, Phil Cofer (sigh), Christ Koumadje, and Mfiondu Kabenegele are all gone. That leaves guard Trent Forrest as the lone man with very much experience. The environment will be tough, but I think we pull this one out and send the Seminoles to the consolation game. But I can never count out a Leonard Hamilton coached team…except here…because I picked us to win.
-My prediction/running record: Win (5-1)
-11/30/2019 vs. Purdue OR VCU [Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida]
-My thoughts: First off- we will play Purdue. I think the days of the Rams of VCU being relevant are over. WHAT A REMATCH THIS WILL BE. After they completely broke our hearts last year behind Carsen Edwards in the Sweet Sixteen, I believe we get our revenge here in this game, though it pales in comparison to the importance of the 2018-2019 matchup.
The overly-emotional tall guy that looks like an emaciated Ivan Drago (Matt Haarms) is still around, but with someone that emotionally labile being tasked with anchoring a team as a leader, I don’t look for the Boilermakers to have too much success this year. I think we beat them and walk away from the Thanksgiving break as Emerald Coast Classic Champions.
-My prediction/running record: Win (6-1)
-12/4/2019 vs. Florida A&M
-My thoughts: You know those random teams you have just always had an affinity for? One of them for me is the Florida A&M Rattlers.
I don’t know if it is because of the weird sports package we had on my family television as a child (which I whined until we purchased at an obscene rate; Sorry, Dad), but I have watched an abnormal amount of FAMU games for a boy from Speedwell, Tennessee. Anyway, that is enough. We win this one. Big.
-My prediction/running record: Win (7-1)
-12/14/2019 vs. Memphis
-My thoughts: I sure am glad we rolled into FedEx Forum and waxed Memphis last year, because I think they are going to roll into Knoxville and quiet down TBA really quick-like. I am honestly astounded at the amount of talent Penny Hardway has compiled in his 2nd year (#1 class in the nation per 247).
While I ultimately see them only sticking around for one season, Precious Achiuwa (National #15 per 247), James Wiseman (National #1 per 247), and Boogie Ellis (National #38 per 247) are all going to be part of winning round two of this renewed rivalry, balled fists or not. While next year may be us dropping the hammer on them, this year the Tigers will get us. We lose, and it may be ugly.
-My prediction/running record: Loss (7-2)
-12/18/2019 @ Cincinnati
-My thoughts: Cincy is a program in-flux right now after going 28-7 in 2018. After Mick Cronin accepted the UCLA job once Vols Coach Rick Barnes turned them down (I always had faith in you, Deacon), the Bearcats landed John Brannen from Northern Kentucky. I believe we head up north and win this one, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Cincinnati had 5 players transfer to other Division I programs and 2 players graduate. They also didn’t refill their roster with much talent (4 low tier transfers and the #98 recruiting class per 247). The Vols will walk away from their first TRUE road game with a “W”.
-My prediction/running record: Win (8-2)
-12/21/2019 vs. Jacksonville State
-My thoughts: Here is another game that I have no real in-depth analysis on, but can wax poetic for a second. One of my brothers played baseball for our hometown college, and one of his teammates was a transfer from JSU. He wasn’t a very good baseball player, but he did have a good head of hair; I’m looking at you, Mickey Rich! Vols win by a big margin, and we all get a little Christmas cheer as we wrap up our pre-Christmas schedule.
-My prediction/running record: Win (9-2)
-12/28/2019 vs. Wisconsin
-My thoughts: We wrap up our official non-conference schedule with a game against the Badgers of Wisconsin. While on paper, we match up pretty well against these guys, I just don’t think we enter SEC play with a 10-2 record. While the Badgers lose Ethan Happ (who was there for like 20 seasons) and Khalil Iverson, they do return an experienced back-court in Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice. Furthermore, after the passing of a beloved assistant coach in Madison, Howard Moore, the Badgers are going to experience an emotionally charged season. Wisconsin has always been a tough out for any team they play, play a slow game with a lot of defense, and I think they leave Knoxville with a resume enhancing win.
-My prediction/running record: Loss (9-3)
The Break in The Action
I think we can all agree that we would be satisfied with a 9-3 record heading into conference play! That gets us to almost half of the number of total wins we would need to get into the NCAA tournament. I truly think this is a very favorable schedule for a team with so many new pieces, and while we will take our lumps (as I have already alluded to), I see this new era of Tennessee basketball starting off pretty strong.
Be sure to check back in a couple weeks to see how I think we will fare during conference play, and how our resume will look heading into Selection Sunday! Now, get back to worrying about whether or not we are going to beat UTC on Saturday at noon; I know that is what I am going to do. As always, be sure to check out the content the other writers at More Important Issues put out; I promise, you won’t be disappointed!
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