Tennessee men’s basketball received a clearer view of its 2013-14 non-conference schedule Monday.
The Vols will face UTEP on Thanksgiving Day in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis followed by a game against either Xavier or Iowa in the next round.
The matchups were released Monday with Kansas facing Wake Forest and Villanova meeting Southern Cal on the opposite side of the bracket.
UT and UTEP will meet in the opening round of the three-day tournament on Nov. 28 at 9:30 p.m. that will be televised on NBC Sports Network.
The News Sentinel also confirmed Morehead State and Tusculum College as non-conference opponents on Monday, filling the program’s out-of-conference schedule.
Tennessee could officially release its schedule with SEC games as early as next week.
UTEP went 18-14 in 2012-13, going 10-6 in Conference USA and finished with an RPI of 97. The Vols and Miners haven’t met since Tennessee traveled to El Paso for the 1962 Sun Bowl Tournament and lost 77-57.
Led by coach Tim Floyd, who is 58-41 in three seasons at the school, UTEP returns three starters, 67.0 percent its scoring and 75.1 percent of its rebounding from a year ago. The roster is filled out by six freshmen, including Isaac Hamilton, a consensus top-25 prep player.
Whether Hamilton will actually be on the Miners’ roster remains to be seen. The 6-foot-5 guard is currently in a tug of war with Floyd to gain a release from his National Letter of Intent, citing an ill grandmother back home in Los Angeles. Floyd has refused the release. The case is now in the hands of the National Letter of Intent Steering Committee in Indianapolis.
Iowa and Xavier, UT’s two potential second-round opponents, both finished with top-100 RPIs last season. Iowa went 25-13, posted an RPI of 61 and lost to Baylor in the NIT championship game. Xavier, which overhauled its roster last season, went 17-14, had an RPI of 95 and lost to UT in Knoxville, 51-47.
UT could meet Xavier twice in the upcoming season, as the Vols will travel to Cincinnati to complete the back-end of a home-and-home contract.
The additions of Morehead State and Tusculum are UT’s fourth and fifth “guarantee games” for the upcoming season. Those teams — along with Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and USC-Upstate — will visit Thompson-Boling Arena and not receive a return game, collecting a healthy check instead.
Morehead State is coached by former Kentucky standout Sean Woods and finished 15-18 last season.
Tusculum posted a 6-21 record last season. As a Division II opponent, the Pioneers will count on UT’s final record, but not impact its RPI or strength of schedule.
The Vols will also host the The Citadel as part of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Because the tournament is considered an “exempt tournament,” meaning participants can play four games, each team will play one on-campus game that counts as part of the tournament, but has no bearing on the bracket.
Tennessee’s home non-conference schedule is highlighted by dates against Virginia and N.C. State, while the only two true road games are at Xavier and Wichita State.
The games against Virginia, Xavier and Wichita State all complete home-and-home contracts. UT and N.C. State are in the first year of a home-and-home, with the Vols making a return trip to Raleigh, N.C., next season.
Opponents for UT’s two preseason games remain unknown. Martin told the News Sentinel in late June that one will be open to the public at Thompson-Boling Arena against a non-Division I team and the other will be a closed-door scrimmage against another D1 team. Martin is looking for the latter to be a true road scrimmage.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn
Tennessee men’s basketball 2013-14 non-conference schedule.
Home: N.C. State, Virginia, Morehead State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, USC-Upstate, The Citadel (part of Battle 4 Atlantis), Tusculum College (Division II).
Away: Xavier, Wichita State.
Neutral Court (Battle 4 Atlantis, Bamahas): UTEP, (Iowa or Xavier), (Kansas, Southern Cal, Villanova or Wake Forest).