When the Vols put it on Kansas Saturday evening, one of my first thoughts was, “Man, when’s the last time we blew out a good team like this?” When the name of the front of the jersey says KANSAS, it feels like it’s worth a little more. But the answer to that question is probably, “A month ago.”
Tennessee now has a pair of Top 15 wins and a pair of Top 15 blowouts: 73-53 over #12 Missouri on December 30, 80-61 over #15 Kansas on January 30. So if it’s happened twice in 30 days, it must happen all the time right?
The 2019 Vols did put it on #4 Kentucky in Knoxville by 19 after they had it done to them in Lexington by 17. Going back to what we think of as Tennessee’s current run of basketball success (Pearl-Barnes), how many times have the Vols beaten a Top 15 opponent by 15+ points in those last 15 years?
In flipping through the media guide, it’s those three games in the last three years, and only once more…which also involved Rick Barnes! In Bruce Pearl’s first season, the Vols went to #6 Texas and shockingly won by 17.
And that’s it. That’s the list.
15+ point wins over Top 15 teams in the last 15 years
- 2006: Tennessee 95 #6 Texas 78
- 2019: #7 Tennessee 71 #4 Kentucky 52
- 2021: #7 Tennessee 73 #12 Missouri 53
- 2021: #18 Tennessee 80 #15 Kansas 61
Before Pearl’s stunning victory in Austin, you have to go back to Jerry Green’s 2000 SEC Championship team blowing out #7 Auburn by 29. Before then, the next one I can find is from 1982.
The performance in Gainesville made us feel the floor a little bit, for sure. But those two wins over Kansas and Missouri are fairly high ceilings. I still think Kansas was a bit underrated coming in, victimized by a Big 12 schedule we’re used to them dominating. And while some may have written off Missouri after the game in Columbia, their performance in Knoxville (and otherwise) since then has kept them in the national conversation. There are, in fact, a quartet of SEC teams in today’s AP poll: #10 Alabama, #11 Tennessee, #18 Missouri, and #22 Florida. That means more opportunities to figure out what the Vols are made of in a conference that’s solidifying itself in the bracket.
Long way to go this year, and maybe another pendulum swing or two. But Tennessee’s best this year has been up there with just about anything we’ve seen before, and credit Rick Barnes for getting the best out of his teams against the best competition.