Hey Volunteer Football Fans, Tennessee Plays Some Basketball Too

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer IDecember 12, 2009

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 15:  Wayne Chism #4 of the Tennessee Volunteers dunks against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the Championship game of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on March 15, 2009 at The St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

I know it's been an exciting season on the gridiron in Knoxville. We welcomed a new coach and a new era for Tennessee football.

So I really can't blame you for not taking notice until now. Taking notice of what? Just a little thing we like to call Tennessee basketball.

Bruce Pearl has his troops ready to march through the SEC this year.

The Vols currently ranked No. 9, sit at 6-1 with the lone loss coming to top ten ranked Purdue by a mere two points.

As soon as Christmas and New Year's have come and gone, the Vols will take on No. 1 Kansas before getting into a tough SEC schedule in 2010.

In case you haven't been watching, Pearl and the Vols will face a much tougher conference than last season.

John Calipari is in the SEC now. He has Kentucky playing some great ball. 

Led by freshman phenom John Wall, the 'Cats have not lost a game yet. Among their most recent victims is UConn. In short, Kentucky is for real.

Florida began the year unranked, but that changed almost in an instant as the Gators defeated preseason top five Michigan State just last week. The Gators debuted at No. 11 following that win.

Florida's first and only loss to date came against No. 7 Syracuse this week. Again, the SEC East is stacked.

Vanderbilt has a solid team. South Carolina is no pushover. Fortunately for the rest of the East, Georgia is not quite to the level of either.

Over in the SEC West Mississippi State is back with Jarvis Varnado. Vol fans should remember him as the guy that almost single-handedly defeated Tennessee in the SEC Tournament Championship game last March.

Ole Miss looks to be resurgent as well. Coach Andy Kennedy has the Rebels in position to compete in 2010.

Alabama welcomes a new coach in 2010. Anthony Grant, by all indications, is the real deal. 'Bama has played well through eight games so far and they look to challenge the Mississippi schools for top billing in the west.

LSU is young, but they should improve as the year goes along. That's pretty much the motto that the Tigers live by.

Auburn finds itself at a crossroads in 2010. If Jeff Lebo doesn't turn things around look for wholesale changes on the Plains. Still, Auburn is another team that gradually improves over a long season.

Arkansas, like Auburn faces a challenging year as well.

The SEC is definitely improving.

Thankfully, this Tennessee team should do the same in 2010.

With all five starters returning off of last year's SEC Tournament Championship appearance, the Vols do not lack for experience.

Led by seniors Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism this Vols team could be very special.

The backcourt, led by Bobby Maze at point guard proved to be the achilles heel last season. With a full season under his belt, however, Maze appears to have improved greatly.

As much as Smith and Chism do for this team, the Vols big hopes lie in the play J.P. Prince and Scotty Hopson .

Hopson has been largely inconsistent this season as he was in his freshman year when most people thought he'd be one and done. His play did not translate into that kind of success.

Prince has all kinds of talent and knows how to play the game. He is reaching for that elite level and if he can attain that in '09-'10 the Vols will have plenty of meaningful games come March.

The bench is held up by Renaldo Woolridge, Steven Pearl, freshman Kenny Hall, Skyler McBee, Brian Willams, Melvin Goins, and key sixth man Cameron Tatum. All of those role players provide key minutes off the bench.

With the level of competition in the SEC being raised expect Pearl to demand the same of the Vols in 2010. The Vols want to reach the level of the elite this season.

The pieces may finally be in place for that happen.


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