🏀 Tennessee is a legit national title contender

The hype for the Vols is building

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • How the nation has taken notice to Tennessee’s run

  • Tennessee athletics isn’t slowing down any time soon

  • VFL Jaylen Wright makes a major impression on NFL teams

  • Why Tennessee Basketball won’t take it easy on Senior Day

THE INCREDIBLE TENNESSEE BASKETBALL RUN

Rick Barnes and the Vols have everyone’s attention

Tennessee’s basketball team has taken over a lot of the conversation in college basketball.

The Vols’ impressive run to an outright SEC championship — the program’s first in 16 years and just the second since 1967 — has changed the talk about Rick Barnes’ team and what it’s capable of the rest of the way.

Tennessee has moved up to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in projections from both Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports.

That would be the school’s first ever No. 1 seed, if you haven’t heard by now.

So are you starting to believe in Tennessee’s postseason chances?

Several members of the national media have joined the hype train.

Following Tennessee’s win over South Carolina on Wednesday, Wally Szczerbiak said on CBS that UT is playing the best basketball in the country right now.

“Right now, Dalton Knecht and the way Tennessee’s playing, they are the best team in the country. They’re playing much better competition on a nightly basis. They’re doing it on the road in the SEC. And Dalton Knecht has taken a little bit of time at the start of the season and allocate his role — but right now, this team looks absolutely unstoppable.”

Pressed on whether he thinks Tennessee is better than UConn right now, Szczerbiak said he’ll take the Vols right now.

Terrence Oglesby, a college hoops analyst and former Clemson guard, is also on Tennessee’s side.

He told the Field of 68 he’s taking Tennessee all the way to Phoenix for the Final Four.

“I’m going all in on Tennessee, guys. I think they’re that good. Rocky Top, Knoxville, Thompson-Boling, the whole schtick… I think they’re that good. You bright back a team — basically everybody on the roster — you bring back a team that makes the Sweet 16. Runs into Florida Atlantic. And now, you end up bringing in Dalton Knecht, who’s the best on-ball scorer. What did they miss last year? An on-ball scorer.

Santiago Vescovi couldn’t create for himself whenever they played Florida Atlantic. They didn’t have anybody that could kind of make something happen. They now have that, and the defense hasn’t gotten any worse. … Good Ol’ Rocky Top. They’re going to be singing that in Phoenix. I’m telling you. These guys are dangerous.”

These comments follow previous statements this season from coaches around the country saying Tennessee is a Final Four-caliber team.

Seth Greenberg of ESPN picked the Vols to win the national title at the start of the season.

The talk is real — and so is Tennessee’s opportunity.

Only UConn, Houston and Purdue have better odds than Tennessee to win the national title, according to DraftKings.

Does this talk mean Tennessee will absolutely make the Final Four?

Of course not.

But this year’s team is different than last year’s team — and just about any other prior Tennessee team.

Tennessee also hasn’t shied away from its goal of winning the national title.

Tennessee associate head coach Justin Gainey said on Josh and Swain the focus will be on how the Vols can continue to improve from where they are now.

“Our conversation is we’ve got to keep getting better. We can’t feel like we’ve arrived. We can’t feel like there’s no more room to get better.

Coach (Barnes) is great at keeping guys motivated (and) keeping them on edge and showing, ‘Hey, yea we’ve done some good. But here’s where we can clean some stuff up.’ And we’re nowhere near the team we can be if we take care of a couple of things.”

We talked more with Justin Gainey about how the Vols haven’t gotten to this point and what they need to do to find more success the rest of the way.

Check out the interview below. ⬇️⬇️

EVERYTHING IS UP FOR TENNESSEE

If it feels like Tennessee has done a lot of winning recently, it’s because Tennessee has done a lot of winning recently.

Jason Baum from UT shared this note after Tennessee clinched its regular season championship on Wednesday night.

How much credit does Danny White deserve for those championships?

Not sure — all of those programs’ coaches were hired by previous UT athletic directors.

(And that’s no knock on White; he’s one of the nation’s best ADs.)

The point here is that Tennessee is well structured with its leadership in the athletic department and the head coaches running their respective programs.

The ultimate goal is to win a national title — hence, the opening of today’s newsletter — but conference titles matter, too.

SEC championships also mean Tennessee is competing with the nation’s best teams.

Tennessee fans have dealt with a lot of losing in a lot of different sports the past 15 years or so.

But right now:

◼️ Tennessee football has won 20 games in the last two seasons
◼️ Tennessee basketball is as good as its ever been
◼️ Tennessee baseball will make another run at the College World Series
◼️ Tennessee softball is one of the nation’s best programs (every year)

And several other Tennessee sports are competing and succeeding at a high level.

One listener to Josh and Swain suggested this is the best time in UT history to be a fan of the Vols.

We pushed back a little — those national championships in football and women’s basketball in the 1990s make for a great case.

But there’s no denying how well things are going for Tennessee.

And there’s a good chance the success will continue.

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 Remember Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz’s “stand on business” like to Josh Heupel following the game in November? Drinkwitz explained why he said it this past week.

🏈 Chris Low wrote about Nick Saban’s decision to retire and Alabama’s quick move to replace him. There’s also an interesting note involving Lane Kiffin.

🏈 Here’s a preview of Tennessee’s quarterback position with spring practice about 10 days away.

🏈 Check out introductory press conferences with new Tennessee LB coach William Inge right here and running backs coach De’Rail Sims right here.

🏀Maybe bookmark this conference tourney tracker from CBS Sports writer David Cobb (who joined us to talk UT hoops last week).

🏀 Worth monitoring: The Temple-UAB game was flagged by gambling watchdog company U.S. Integrity.

❤️ I’m helping this year’s Visionaries of the Year campaign to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a wonderful organization that helps fight blood cancer and supports cancer patients. Click here to learn more.

JAYLEN WRIGHT’S BIG SHOWING

The VFL had a BIG weekend in front of NFL teams

Former Tennessee running back Jaylen Wright had himself a showing at last weekend’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Wright produced more than 1,000 yards last season while averaging more than seven yards a carry for the Vols.

He showed NFL teams he’s an elite athlete, too.

Some of Wright’s numbers from the combine:

  • 4.38-inch 40 yard dash

  • 11’2” broad jump

  • 38-inch vertical

Wright put up those numbers weighing in at 210 pounds.

His size, speed, and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield has increased Wright’s NFL stock.

“All 32 teams can use a guy like Jaylen Wright,” Jayson Swain said this week on the show.

How big was the combine performance for Wright?

He’s “now firmly in the mix to be the top back off the board in April’s draft,” according to ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

Not bad for a former three-star prospect from Durham, N.C.

Cornerback Kamal Hadden and quarterback Joe Milton III were Tennessee’s other representatives at the Combine.

Milton helped himself by putting on a show in throwing drills.

How much can his physical tools offset some of the concerns that still exist from Milton’s on-field play?

That remains to be seen.

But Milton will get a shot in the NFL.

If he finds the right situation that doesn’t ask a lot of Milton early in his career, he can find success at the next level.

DON’T OVERLOOK KENTUCKY

Tennessee will honor four seniors on Saturday

Tennessee’s SEC title has been clinched, but there’s still work to be done before the NCAA Tournament begins.

Next up: a chance to sweep Kentucky on Saturday.

📍 Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center
📅 Saturday, March 9
4:00 p.m. ET
📺 CBS
📻 99.1 The Sports Animal/WIVK

A listener asked on Thursday if Tennessee will rest players against Kentucky with the SEC title wrapped up.

That seems doubtful.

Gainey talked about wanting to send the seniors out on a high note.

And a loss to the Wildcats could hurt Tennessee’s attempt at landing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s also hard to believe Tennessee would rest players in front of a packed crowd hoping to see the Vols beat Kentucky.

One thing will always remain consistent: Tennessee fans love to beat the Wildcats.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy.

Kentucky’s defense has had issues this season — but the Wildcats can score with any team in the country.

“Kentucky’s a really, really good team,” Gainey said. “I think they’re playing their best ball of the season right now. They’re starting to get guys back healthy.”

So it’s one more test for Tennessee to close out the regular season.

There’s no reason to think the Vols won’t be ready.

And if Tennessee wins again, expect more people to jump on board with Oglesby.

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