After making their first NCAA Tournament since 2006, the Pirates are searching for their first back-to-back appearances in the Big Dance since the mid-90’s.
The first step to reaching college basketball’s grand stage in 2017 is acing their tests during the non-conference portion of the schedule. And this year’s slate of games won’t be easy to say the least.
Without Isaiah Whitehead (who is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets), four returning starters, Angel Delgado, Ismael Sanogo, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez, will have to get off to a hot start.
The Pirates play two “buy-games” against Fairleigh Dickinson (Walsh Gym) and Central Connecticut (Prudential Center) to open the season, however, FDU made the NCAA Tournament last year and is a rising team in the Northeast Conference.
From there, the Pirates will be tested against some strong teams from Power Five conferences.
While Iowa lost senior Jarrod Uthoff and will likely take a step back in the Big Ten, it won’t be easy to travel across the country to Iowa City to face off against a team that has Peter Jok leading the way. This game will be a part of the Gavitt Games (Big Ten versus Big East).
The Pirates then travel to Orlando to play in the AdvoCare Invitational, where they will match-up against the Florida Gators in the opening round of the event. The Gators may not be in the class of Kentucky in the SEC, but they are an under the radar team that returns numerous contributors from a unit that struggled in 2015-16.
Following their showdown against Florida, Willard’s club will face either Gonzaga or Quinnipiac. Obviously, the Bulldogs would be the tougher match-up as they should be a top-10 team in the country despite the loses of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. The AdvoCare Invitational guarantees three games a team, so the Pirates will finish up with one more possible resume building game.
Seton Hall will also play California in Hawai’i, a showdown between Delgado and Ivan Rabb will be fun, as well as a match-up against South Carolina at Madison Square Garden.
They have three other home games against local teams Columbia, Rutgers and Delaware.
Overall, this is a pretty solid non-conference slate. Iowa is still a dangerous team as long as Jok is playing, Florida will be better in Michael White’s second year, a Gonzaga game could be a treat given they played in the NCAA Tournament last year, California is still solid after losing Jaylen Brown and Tyrone Wallace, and South Carolina was robbed of an NCAA Tournament bid last year.
This will not only help the Pirates tune up for Big East play, but it will be a massive boost to their overall resume if they can steal some victories.
And most importantly, this could be a major lift to keep the Big East in the national picture. If Seton Hall can defeat Iowa, Florida, Gonzaga, California and/or South Carolina, that would be a massive plus to a league that has greatly improved over the last year or so.
Rick Barnes Says He Would Have Left Tennessee if UCLA Paid Buyout
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes could have been the next head coach for UCLA, instead of Mick Cronin, if only the Bruins were willing to open up their wallets.
Barnes says that if UCLA would have promised to pay Barnes’ $5 million buyout, he would have left Tennessee to take the job at UCLA.
“I think I would’ve been the coach at UCLA,” Barnes said (h/t ESPN). “I’ve said that to people before. I really felt at that time that’s what would happen.”
Barnes was honest and open with his decision process during the news conference, saying that he struggled with making a final decision due to financial matters.
Barnes has since agreed to a new deal with Tennessee that will pay him $4 million per year before increasing to a $6 million annual sum by the end of the contract and provide more cash for his assistants.
“I’m supposed to be at Tennessee,” Barnes said. “And it’s really above and beyond the basketball program. I’m in love with this community. I’m in love with this state. I just think we got a lot of great things going on in this town.”
“A lot of praying went into it, I can tell you that,” Barnes said. “There was a lot going on. When you get down to a situation like that, it has to make sense from a financial standpoint. Bottom line is we couldn’t work it out with the buyout.”
Barnes also informed UCLA that he would not depart Knoxville without talking to athletic director Phillip Fulmer and others in the community.
I told them point blank, ‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with my team,'” Barnes said. “‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with people here that have been really good to me.’ … I said, ‘You just can’t say send a plane tomorrow and we’re leaving. I’m going to make sure this is done the right way.'”
“There was one time in my mind I truly felt that’s what would happen,” Barnes said about potentially taking the UCLA offer. “It got to that point where I felt like my prayers had been answered.”
The Madness is Underway
As we inch closer to selection Sunday, many conference tournaments are underway finding teams who will automatically make the NCAA Men’s basketball. Here are the teams that currently in the tournament:
Atlantic Sun: Liberty
Big South: Gardner–Webb
Horizon: Northern Kentucky
Missouri Valley: Bradley
MEC: Fairleigh Dickinson
Ohio Valley: Murray State
Summit League: North Dakota State
Summit League: Saint Marry’s
Out of the 32 conferences with automatic bids in the tournament, 12 of them have been clinched. All the until selection Sunday the remaining 20 conferences will have their tickets punched. Who will that be? Stay tuned!
Tennessee Basketball Ranked 4th In (Early) Preseason Top 25
A school built on football lure now has a thriving basketball team to get behind. In a early CBS basketball poll, the Volunteer squad is ranked 4th in the preseason. This should bring relief to a fan base whose struggled with a lackluster football team in recent years.
Under Coach Rick Barnes (SEC Coach of the year 2017) the Vols went 26-9 last year, won a share of the regular season SEC title and reached the final of the SEC tournament. Tennessee should return most of their pivotal pieces for the 2018-19 season.
Admiral Schofield (2017-2018 ALL SEC second teamer) who tested the NBA waters has returned for his senior year to play along side Grant Williams (SEC player of the year) and Kyle Alexander. If they can stay healthy along with the supporting cast, this team has a legitimate chance to reach the final four.
According to Andy Katz, “Tennessee is the team to beat in the SEC this year,” and did I mention Coach Barnes recruiting is nothing to take lightly. Recently committed 5 star combo guard, Josiah James added his name to the class of 2019 and pushed the Vols recruiting into the top 10 nationally.
Although it’s too early to tell how this season will play out its certain the hype is warranted and reaching heights it hasn’t seen since the Bruce Pearl era.
Could it be!? Tennessee – a basketball school?
Follow the journey when the Volunteers tip off against Louisiana Lafayette on November 9th.
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