While we’ve been kicking around ideas for Tennessee’s non-conference future in football and looking at what the rest of the league has done in that department, Tennessee’s basketball team announced two games for next year. The Vols have a neutral site date with Gonzaga and a visit from West Virginia in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The basketball team, fresh off an SEC Championship and a three seed in the NCAA Tournament, will be carrying the torch for the athletic department in the short-term. And with Rick Barnes’ track record, there are plenty of reasons to believe they can sustain this kind of success.
That being the case, the Vols can resume the fearless non-conference scheduling in basketball Barnes employed at Texas (and Bruce Pearl employed at Tennessee). Gonzaga, for instance, is just about the best friend your RPI can have: in the last six years the Bulldogs are 193-28 overall. They’re a smart addition to a 2018-19 schedule that includes return visits from Wake Forest and Georgia Tech which don’t look as tough as we hoped when they were scheduled. The Memphis rivalry is back, but give Penny Hardaway a minute before expecting more from the Tigers after a 40-26 run from Tubby Smith. Tennessee will also get two of Kansas, Louisville, and Marquette in the preseason NIT in November.
Getting West Virginia in the SEC/Big East Challenge is a nice addition, and continues to show how the event schedules to your reputation: in the last four years the Vols have played TCU, Iowa State, and Kansas State twice. If Tennessee continues to excel in basketball, they’ll continue to have more exciting match-ups in this series.
And if the Vols are indeed excelling, they should continue to schedule up in non-conference play. I have no doubt Rick Barnes will continue to pursue championship-caliber competition outside the SEC. In doing so, here are a few ideas centered around teams the Vols haven’t hosted in a long time, if ever (thanks again to those who work hard to produce Tennessee’s media guide, where all this info is pulled from):
Never Played in Knoxville:
- UCLA – The Vols and Bruins met once in Atlanta in 1977, both ranked in the Top 10 at the time.
- Notre Dame – The Irish beat Tennessee in the second round of the 1979 NCAA Tournament, the only meeting between the two schools.
- Indiana – Four neutral site meetings, the last in the 1985 NIT semifinals in New York City. But the Vols and Hoosiers have never met on each other’s home floors.
- Villanova – Two meetings in Philadelphia in 1950 and 1971, then the 2011 preseason NIT and last year in the Bahamas. But the defending champs have never been to Knoxville.
It’s Been a Minute:
- Duke – Fifteen meetings all-time, but only one since 1980 (2011 Maui). The Blue Devils haven’t been to Knoxville since 1976. It’s been so long, Duke was only ranked in two of those 15 meetings.
- Purdue – A home-and-home in 1980-81 is the only on-campus meeting between the Vols and Boilermakers, who played a pair of classics in preseason tournaments in the 2009-10 and 2017-18 seasons.
- Arizona – A home-and-home in 1982-83, then the first game of the year in Albuquerque during the 1998-99 season.
- Michigan – The bane of our NCAA Tournament existence in 2011 and 2014, the Wolverines were in Knoxville for a 1984-85 home-and-home.
- Cincinnati – Four meetings in the 1950s, then a home-and-home in 1992-93.
- Michigan State – The Vols and Spartans played a home-and-home in 1993-94, then met in the 2010 Elite Eight. Rick Barnes scheduled a bunch of neutral site games with Tom Izzo during his time at Texas.
Duke is an obvious choice (as is Texas from a fan and TV perspective, but I don’t think Barnes wants to go there). But who else would you like to see the Vols face?