In coach Cuonzo Martin’s second season, Tennessee’s basketball team will be listed in some preseason top 25 lists and predicted to finish near the top of the now 14-team Southeastern Conference. The Vols will play a schedule befitting that lofty stature.
Tennessee has to find one more home guarantee game against a low- to mid-major team to complete what will be a demanding regular-season test that includes road games at Georgetown (on Nov. 30 in the SEC/Big East Challenge) and also at improving Virginia. Tennessee will play Xavier, Wichita State, Memphis and Oakland at home.
Xavier and Wichita State have been so consistently good in recent seasons they’ve transcended mid-major status, though both suffered heavy personnel losses after last season. Memphis, which beat the Vols twice last year, is finishing up its last year in Conference USA before making the switch to the Big East. Oakland has beaten Tennessee the last two seasons, including in Knoxville in 2010-11, former coach Bruce Pearl’s last season.
Another challenge comes in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18), which includes Akron, UMass, NC State, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Providence and UNC Asheville.
Tennessee is looking at Kennesaw State and Western Carolina to complete its home schedule.
The Vols won’t need as many non-conference games this season because the SEC schedule has expanded to 18 games (from 16) with the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, which officially joined the league on July 1.
For the second consecutive year, the SEC won’t use the same division format it still has in place for football. Instead, the schedule calls for a home-and-home series against one permanent rival (Vanderbilt, in Tennessee’s case), four home-and-home series against rotating opponents and single games against every other team in the conference.
“I think for the conference, what we were trying to do is strengthen everybody’s schedule,” SEC associate commissioner Mark Whitworth said. “Everybody has a little bit different scheduling philosophy but I think, overall, we felt like to add 18 games was probably the most significant thing we could do to enhance the league’s RPI and the overall strength of schedule 1-14. To add that many games in one year with the 18-game schedule and the additional members is a significant step.”
Once the regular season is complete, the Vols will head to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for the SEC tournament on March 14-17.