Highly touted basketball Vols will face robust non-conference competition

Tribune News Service • May 25, 2018 at 9:59 PM

KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee men's basketball team's 2018-19 schedule is shaping up as a challenging slate for a team some prognosticators have projected as high as No. 3 in preseason rankings.

On Thursday, the Southeastern Conference announced the Volunteers will host West Virginia as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Jan. 26. The revelation came three days after Tennessee announced it will play Gonzaga in Phoenix on Dec. 9.

West Virginia went 26-11 this past season and made the Sweet 16 as a No. 5 seed before losing to eventual national champion Villanova. Gonzaga went 32-5 and made the Sweet 16 as a No. 4 seed.

Tennessee's nonconference slate also includes a trip to New York for the NIT Season Tip-Off -- the Vols will play Nov. 21 and 23 in an event that includes Kansas, Louisville and Marquette -- plus matchups against Georgia Tech, Memphis and Wake Forest. The full nonconference schedule is expected to be revealed this summer.

"Our goal every year is to play the best nonleague schedule in the country," coach Rick Barnes told reporters Tuesday during a Big Orange Caravan stop in Atlanta.

At season's end, Tennessee's 2017-18 strength of schedule ranked 17th, according to the College Basketball Power Index. The 2018-19 schedule appears even tougher.

CBS Sports college basketball analyst Gary Parrish projected West Virginia as the No. 17 team in the country and Gonzaga at No. 5 in a preseason poll released Tuesday. Parrish had Tennessee at No. 3, noting the Vols should return most players from a squad that shared an SEC regular-season title and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The lofty projection for the Vols appears based on the assumption Admiral Schofield will return for his senior season as expected. Schofield has yet to confirm his plans, although he indicated in recent interviews he plans to keep his name in consideration for next month's NBA draft only if it appears he would be selected in the first round.

Schofield was Tennessee's second-leading scorer in 2017-18. He was scheduled to work out for the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Contact Chattanooga Times-Free Press writer David Cobb at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.

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