There have been plenty of changes in the Tennessee’s men’s basketball program the past five months, but schedule difficulty is not one of them.
The Vols, who return just one starter, released the 2011-12 schedule on Thursday, and it’s as loaded as ever.
UT will play 14 games against teams that played in last season’s NCAA tournament and 10 games against teams that finished in the top 50 of the RPI ratings.
The Vols’ schedule strength ranked second nationally last season and has ranked among the top six in the nation five of the past six seasons, according to RealTimeRpi.com.
Tennessee first-year coach Cuonzo Martin, in China as an assistant coach with the U.S. Men’s Junior National Team through Monday, inherited the vast majority of the schedule from the previous staff.
But Martin’s not complaining.
“This is the type of schedule that players want to play,” Martin said in a UT release Thursday. “Tennessee has historically put together a great schedule every year. But when you look at the field in Maui, the games against Pitt, Memphis and UConn, and then add the SEC — which is going to have numerous preseason top-20 teams and some future NBA guys — this schedule might be the toughest one yet.
“But it’s great for our fans and our players, so we’re excited about it.”
UT’s exhibition schedule includes 7:30 p.m. games with Division II teams Carson-Newman College (Nov. 3) and Lincoln-Memorial (Nov. 7). before the season opener on Nov. 11 against UNC-Greensboro at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Some of the more challenging portions of the schedule include a trip to the Maui Invitational, where the Vols play Duke on Nov. 21 and either Memphis or Michigan on Nov. 22 before wrapping up their trip to Hawaii against a yet-to-be-determined opponent on Nov. 23.
From there, Tennessee plays at Oakland, Mich. (Nov. 28), which upset the Vols last season, before coming home to face Big East heavyweight Pittsburgh on Dec. 3.
The Vols hope to get off to a fast start in 2012 with a home game against Chattanooga on Jan. 2 before a potentially brutal stretch that includes games at Memphis (Jan. 4), the SEC opener at home against Florida (Jan. 7), a trip to Mississippi State (Jan. 12) and a home date with Kentucky (Jan. 14).
A road trip to Georgia (Jan. 18) could offer some relief before defending national champion Connecticut comes to Thompson-Boling Arena for a Jan. 21 game and the Vols travel to play Vanderbilt (Jan. 24).
Provided early prognostications prove accurate, the back end of Tennessee’s schedule could offer an opportunity to close the regular season with momentum.
The Vols play host to Ole Miss on Feb. 22 before road trips to South Carolina (Feb. 25) and LSU (Feb. 29) and the regular season finale at home against Vanderbilt (March 3).
This season’s SEC tournament will be played March 8-11 in New Orleans before the NCAA tournament begins on March 13.
Tennessee’s active string of six consecutive NCAA tournaments is the longest in the SEC, as the Vols have won more SEC games than any league team over the past six seasons.
The television scheduling portion of this season’s schedule isn’t complete, but it’s unlikely UT will enjoy the exposure it has in recent seasons.
Last season, 32 of 33 UT games were televised, 19 nationally including 16 in the ESPN network.
This season’s schedule currently reflects 20 televised games, 11 of which are slated for the various ESPN networks.
The Vols, who have ranked in the top five nationally in attendance the past six seasons, will put their season tickets on sale at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 8, when fans can purchase them online or at Uttix.com
The UT athletic department announced that it will host “Meet Your Seats” events at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sept. 6-7 from 4-7 p.m., where fans can see the available seating inventory for both men’s and women’s basketball season tickets.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men’s basketball and can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32
Tennessee 2011-12 Schedule
Date Opponent Site Time
Nov. 3 Thur. Carson-Newman College (exhibition) Knoxville 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 7 Mon. Lincoln Memorial (exhibition) Knoxville 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 11 Fri. UNC Greensboro Knoxville TBD
Nov. 16 Wed. Louisiana-Monroe Knoxville TBD
Nov. 21 Mon. Duke Maui, Hawaii 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 22 Tue. Memphis or Michigan Maui, Hawaii 2 p.m. or 7 p.m.
Nov. 23 Wed. TBD Maui, Hawaii TBD
Nov. 28 Mon. at Oakland Oakland, Mich. TBD
Dec. 3 Sat. Pittsburgh Knoxville 5:15 p.m.
Dec. 10 Sat. Austin Peay Knoxville TBD
Dec. 14 Wed. at College of Charleston Charleston, S.C. TBD
Dec. 20 Tue. UNC Asheville Knoxville TBD
Dec. 23 Fri. ETSU Knoxville TBD
Dec. 29 Thur. The Citadel Knoxville TBD
Jan. 2 Mon. Chattanooga Knoxville TBD
Jan. 4 Wed. at Memphis Memphis TBD
Jan. 7 Sat. Florida Knoxville 11 a.m.
Jan. 12 Thur. at Mississippi State Starkville, Miss. 9 p.m.
Jan. 14 Sat. Kentucky Knoxville Noon
Jan. 18 Wed. at Georgia Athens, Ga. 8 p.m.
Jan. 21 Sat. Connecticut Knoxville TBD
Jan. 24 Tue. at Vanderbilt Nashville, Tenn. 7 p.m.
Jan. 28 Sat. Auburn Knoxville TBD
Jan. 31 Tue. at Kentucky Lexington, Ky. 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 Sat. Georgia Knoxville 8 p.m.
Feb. 8 Wed. South Carolina Knoxville 8 p.m.
Feb. 11 Sat. at Florida Gainesville, Fla. 4 p.m.
Feb. 15 Wed. Arkansas Knoxville 8 p.m.
Feb. 18 Sat. at Alabama Tuscaloosa, Ala. 1:30 p.m.
Feb. 22 Wed. Ole Miss Knoxville 7 p.m.
Feb. 25 Sat. at South Carolina*^ Columbia, S.C. 8 p.m.
Feb. 29 Wed. at LSU Baton Rouge, La. 9 p.m.
March 3 Sat. Vanderbilt Knoxville 4 p.m.
March 8-11 SEC Tournament New Orleans