Nothing gets a team ready for a run in March quite like a tough non-conference slate.
The Tennessee men’s basketball team is taking that route.
In addition to playing in an evolving hoops league in the SEC, Tennessee plays Washington, Memphis, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Florida State, Purdue, VCU and Kansas out of conference in 2019-20 with two out of the five — Memphis and Wisconsin — taking place within the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena.
Of the Vols’ non-conference opponents, six of them made the NCAA Tournament a season ago, and four are currently ranked in the Associated Press’ preseason Top 25.
Here are Tennessee’s five biggest non-conference games of the 2019-2020 college basketball season.
The Vols travel to historic Allen Fieldhouse for the first time ever on Jan. 25 as part of the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
The Jayhawks are coming off of a 26-10 campaign that ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to eventual Final Four finalist Auburn. That young team now has a year under their belts along with a top 15 recruiting class and are ranked No. 3 in the AP Top 25. The game being in Lawrence could prove to be Tennessee’s toughest road test of the season.
This game has a strong case for being No. 1 due to last season’s intense match up at FedEx Forum. Following Tennessee’s 102-92 win over the Tigers on Dec. 15, 2018, words were exchanged between Rick Barnes and Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway over postgame antics. That storyline persisted all offseason on Twitter and will likely be a point of focus when the two meet again on Dec. 14 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Another game that could open up old wounds.
The Boilermakers ended Tennessee’s historic season in the Sweet Sixteen last season in the most heartbreaking of ways. Many of the big names from that game won’t be there for either side when they meet in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida on Nov. 30.
The Huskies received 128 votes in the AP voting, coming up just short of cracking the preseason top 25, but there is reason for hype in Seattle. Washington snagged two five stars in their most recent recruiting cycle in center Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels.
In 2018-19, the Huskies came up short in the Pac 12 championship game before ending their season in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Vols will go abroad for this win, facing off against Washington at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Nov. 16.
Another tournament team from a year ago, the Bearcats had an impressive 28-7 season where they won the AAC title before falling out of the first round to Iowa. Had Cincinnati beaten the Hawkeyes, this game would have been the second with Tennessee in eight months.
The game is on the road at Fifth Third Arena, and the Bearcats did receive some votes in the AP Top 25, but they will be breaking in first-year head coach John Brannen after Mick Cronin took the UCLA job last spring.