KNOXVILLE – Tennessee’s basketball teams both reappeared in their respective Associated Press top 25 polls on Monday.
The Vols (3-0) popped back into the men’s poll at No. 20 after beating then-No. 20 Washington 75-62 last Saturday at the James Naismith Classic in Toronto.
The Lady Vols (4-0), meanwhile, ended an 11-week absence from the women’s poll with their No. 23 ranking. Their return was achieved largely by last Monday’s 74-63 victory at then-No.
16 Notre Dame, an outcome that coach Kellie Harper hopes will inspire the team to “maybe dream bigger and push for more.”
Tennessee is one of just three schools to have its men’s and women’s programs both undefeated and ranked at this point.
How the news was received in both camps reflected the state of those programs.
The men’s ranking wasn’t broached when Vols’ coach Rick Barnes met with the media before practice. Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper found about her team’s ranking while preparing for practice and described the reaction as “very anti-climactic.”
The Vols have won 57 games the past two seasons. Despite losing starters Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander, the remaining experience and firepower has been evident in their opening games. After the win over Washington, ESPN/SEC basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes tweeted: “Huge neutral floor win over a really good Washington team. Rick Barnes culture is hard to beat.”
Senior guard Jordan Bowden was named SEC player of the week on Monday after averaging 22 points in two games last week. He had a career-high 26 against Murray State and followed up with 18 against Washington.
Fellow guard Lamonte Turner has 22 assists in the past two games and forward Yves Pons continues to score like a different player, averaging 16.3 points per game.
Forward John Fulkerson had his best game of the season against Washington, scoring 14 points and taking on the defensive assignment of guarding forward Isaiah Stewart, the Huskies’ talented big man.
During an interview with the Vol Network after Saturday’s victory, Fulkerson referenced Williams, Schofield, and Alexander in terms of setting the bar “really high” for him.
“I learned a ton from all of those guys,” he said “… learning from them and knowing I have to carry that weight this year. I think I’m definitely up for the job.”
The Lady Vols, on the other hand, are renovating their culture. Harper replaced former coach Holly Warlick after last season. The AP poll was a barometer of sorts for the program’s struggles. The Lady Vols have spent 27 weeks not ranked during the past four-plus seasons.
Still, Harper was not preoccupied with Monday’s return to the poll. She’s more process-oriented and the follow-up to the Notre Dame win was an unsatisfying victory over Tennessee State last Thursday.
The Lady Vols host Stetson on Tuesday.
“Obviously if you are where you’re supposed to be you’re going to be ranked here at Tennessee,” Harper said. “So it’s kind of a by-product of doing what you’re supposed to be doing here.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at email@example.com