How No. 2 Tennessee basketball could claim No. 1 ranking in February
Tennessee basketball could be coming for that No. 1 spot — if February falls well for the Vols.
The Vols (18-3, 7-1 SEC) moved to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 and the USA TODAY Sports coaches poll, their highest ranking this season and loftiest post since they held the No. 1 ranking during the 2018-19 season.
UT, which opens February at Florida (12-9, 5-3) on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2), is in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and could push for the No. 1 spot in the coming month.
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Tennessee's upcoming schedule has marquee win opportunities
Tennessee got a profile-boosting win Jan. 28 by dominating then-No. 10 Texas in an 81-72 win. February is ripe with more resume-making opportunities.
The Vols host No. 23 Auburn on Saturday. A win against the Tigers would give UT its third win against a current top-25 team. UT smothered No. 8 Kansas 64-50 to win the Battle 4 Atlantis title on Nov. 25.
Tennessee hosts Missouri, arguably the SEC's most surprising team, on Feb. 11 before the biggest week of the regular season. The Vols host No. 5 Alabama on Feb. 15 for their lone regular-season meeting, which could decide the SEC title. They play at Kentucky on Feb. 18 with a chance to split the regular-season series with the Wildcats and notch their most notable road win.
UT also plays at Texas A&M on Feb. 21. The Aggies are receiving votes in the latest polls and are tied with the Vols for second place in the SEC with a 7-1 record.
The Vols would need help to leap Purdue, the unanimous top team
Purdue received all votes for No. 1 in the AP Poll and the coaches poll. The Boilermakers are 21-1 with a one-point loss to Rutgers on Jan. 2 as the lone blemish.
UT would need help to hop Purdue, while also staying unbeaten. Purdue's most challenging February games are a pair of matchups with No. 22 Indiana on Feb. 4 and Feb. 25. The Boilermakers, who feature 7-foot-4 center and national player of the year candidate Zach Edey, also play at Northwestern on Feb. 12.
Tennessee's history as the No. 1 team
Tennessee has attained the No. 1 ranking twice in program history. The Vols got to No. 1 in 2007-08 following a win against Memphis in late February, but lost at Vanderbilt to fall from the top spot.
UT got back to No. 1 in 2018-19 for a four-week spurt during a 19-game winning streak. The Vols were No. 3 throughout December and early January before moving to the top from mid-January through mid-February. They fell from the summit after a loss at Kentucky.
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: How No. 2 Tennessee basketball could claim No. 1 ranking in February