Tennessee Volunteers: The Worst Men's Basketball Team in the SEC?

Mark HancockContributor IIINovember 9, 2011

How Will UT Mascot Smokey, the Bluetick Coonhound, Fare in Men's Basketball This Season?
How Will UT Mascot Smokey, the Bluetick Coonhound, Fare in Men's Basketball This Season?Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When the annual preseason college basketball preview magazines came out this fall, the Tennessee Volunteers men's team was picked to finish dead last in the Southeastern Conference.

Can the school that hung banners in Thompson-Boling Arena almost every season under departed head coach Bruce Pearl now be that bad?

After the first two exhibition games—wins over NCAA Division II teams Carson-Newman College and Lincoln Memorial University, both just a few miles from the UT-Knoxville campus—it appears that the prognosticators may be right.

Tennessee just isn't that good this year.

New head coach Cuonzo Martin, hired by former Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton (as his last major move before he was forced out of his position by new UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek and replaced by new UT AD Dave Hart), used five scholarships to recruit players who were on no other SEC team's radar and now appear to be non-contributors, at least as freshmen, on the Vols roster.

Trae Golden, the starting UT point guard, will most likely wind up being this team's leading scorer. Cameron Tatum and Skylar McBee have more experience than any other current team members and will be looked to for leadership on the floor.

As Tennessee opens its regular season this Friday night at home against the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, major questions remain as to how good or bad this team may be.

So far, there doesn't appear a lot for fans to be excited about in Big Orange Country as November unfolds.

The competition will get fierce fast with the team's visit to Maui, as it will be pitted against Duke in the Hawaii classic that will be shown nationally on ESPN2 during Thanksgiving Week.

It won't get any easier with a trip to Oakland (which beat Pearl's last team in Knoxville last season) or when the Vols host Pittsburgh in another nationally televised game that will be played during the SEC championship football game the first Saturday in December.

Meanwhile, Tennessee's chief rivals in the ultra-competitive SEC Eastern Division, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida, are all nationally ranked in the Top 10 and destroying their exhibition opponents.

Since Tennessee has to play each of these teams twice in the regular season and perhaps in the postseason SEC tournament in New Orleans as well, it may be a long, cold winter in Big Orange Country.