The Tennessee men’s basketball team extended its school record of consecutive preseason Top 25 rankings to five on Thursday and is on track to match or surpass its season ticket sales of a year ago.
The Vols, coming off their first NCAA tournament Elite Eight appearance, were ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll after being picked No. 20 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll last week.
“I’ve used the Top 25 as a benchmark of great consistency, and we pride ourselves on being competitive each year’’ UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “I think that’s (ranking) good considering we lost four starters and the winningest player in the history of Tennessee basketball (Wayne Chism).’’
“There are certain household names in the poll every year, and the more consistently you’re in it, the more it increases the perception of the program.’’
That perception has helped sell 14,800 season tickets at this point after reaching 15,100 a year ago.
This, in spite of an ongoing NCAA investigation into the men’s program.
“Our program was one point away from getting to the Final Four last year, but our fans are in the Final Four every year in attendance,’’ Pearl said, referring to the Vols ranking fourth in the nation in attendance each of the past four seasons. “Then we bring 18,000 fans to St. Louis (for the NCAA Elite Eight game). This really is Big Orange Country.’’
Defending national champion Duke was a runaway No. 1 in poll, followed by Michigan State, Kansas State, Ohio State and Pittsburgh. Florida is No. 9 and Kentucky is No. 11.
Pearl said the schedule, which has led to UT finishing with an average RPI rank of 12.4 over Pearl’s previous five seasons, also has something to do with it.
“You look at who we’ve brought in here to play, Kevin Durant at Texas, Coach Bill Self’s Number-one ranked Kansas team, Evan Turner at Ohio State,’’ Pearl said. “And then our facility, Thompson-Boling Arena, it’s such a great venue to watch college basketball.’’
Especially for the home fans: Pearl is 4-0 against top-five ranked teams and 70-8 (.897) in Thompson-Boling Arena.
This season’s home slate, which opens on Nov. 12 against Chattanooga, includes non-conference visits from Southern Cal (Dec. 21) and Memphis (Jan. 5) in addition to the ESPN GameDay crew coming for a men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader with Vanderbilt on Jan. 15.
Tennessee has been ranked in 20 consecutive AP polls dating back to the preseason poll of last year. It’s the second longest streak if its kind in the Pearl Era, behind a period of 32 straight polls the Vols were ranked from 2007-09.
About The tickets: The most season tickets UT can sell is 16,600, according to senior associate athletic director Chris Fuller.
“We’re really pleased where we’re at, because there aren’t many schools in the country that seat 14,800, much less sell that many season tickets,’’ Fuller said. “We have 1,500 season tickets left in the upper level, most all end zones above Row 10.
“We also have 150 family plan seats, for $110 apiece, that are 300 level end zone.’’
Fuller said the Vols also have a limited number of SEC Pack tickets left that sell for $60 apiece and include the home games with Kentucky, South Carolina and LSU.
“That’s the only way to get a Kentucky ticket without buying a season ticket,’’ Fuller said. “We think that’s a pretty good deal.’’