The Tennessee Volunteers had another great year until Zakai Zeigler got hurt on Senior Day. His injury seemed to derail the Volus a bit, though it still didn’t stop them from making it to the Sweet Sixteen. This team can be just as good and could be poised for an even deeper run. If Harvard transfer Chris Ledlum had stayed committed to playing for the Vols instead of flipping to St. John’s, this could’ve been a top-five team.
Previous teams in my rankings can be seen here.
Preseason College Basketball Rankings: #9 Tennessee Volunteers
The always reliable super senior Josiah-Jordan James is back. Santiago Vescovi, another super senior, originally from Uruguay, also returns. Vescovi was the team’s leading scorer last season and should be again this season. He is a lot more than just a scorer, though. Another guard, Jahmai Mashack, returns too. I have always been a fan of returning center Jonas Aidoo. He got a bigger role last year as a sophomore and played well in that role.
A key for the Tennessee Volunteers will be the return of a healthy Zeigler. He tore his ACL on February 28th against Arkansas, forcing him to miss the entirety of the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. He had surgery in March. The sparky little guard is a big part of what the Vols do on both sides of the ball. He’s a good scorer and a great passer, and despite his small size (five-foot-nine, 160 lbs.), he has earned SEC All-Defense honors in his first two seasons. Head coach Rick Barnes said in July that they would not allow Zeigler to return until he is 100%. Zeigler said a week ago that he feels “almost at 100%.”
Barnes brings in a pair of top 80 four-star recruits. The first is combo guard Cameron Carr. He will have to work hard to carve out a role in a crowded backcourt. The other is power forward JP Estrella. The late bloomer is continuing to develop and is a good inside-outside big. With a lack of post depth on this team, he will have a chance to contribute early on. There has been a lot of positive buzz surrounding freshman guard Freddie Dilione. That buzz could earn him a starting spot early in the season while they wait on the return of Zakai Zeigler.
The biggest get was made in the transfer portal. Dalton Knecht was the 13th-ranked player in the portal overall, according to 247 Sports and sixth among mid-major players. The transfer from Northern Colorado had a breakout campaign last season. Despite not winning, he had a strong case for Big Sky Player of the Year. Jordan Gainey also transfers in from SC Upstate. He scored in double figures in his first two collegiate seasons as a member of the Spartans.
C/PF – Jonas Aidoo (5.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG)
SF/SG – Dalton Knecht (20.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.6 BPG at Northern Colorado)
G – Josiah-Jordan James (10.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.1 BPG)
SG – Santiago Vescovi (12.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.1 BPG)
PG – Freddie Dilione (#46 overall recruit on 247 Sports)
(Note: Zakai Zeigler (10.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 5.4 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.2 BPG) will likely be the starting point guard when he returns from injury.)