UT 10th in early hoops ratings

Chris Lofton decided to come back. Tyler Smith decided to show up. Those moves – plus the return of virtually everyone from the 2006-07 roster – has convinced espn.com's Andy Katz that Tennessee will be a top-10 basketball program for 2007-08.

Katz recently posted his "pre-preseason top 25," and these rankings show Bruce Pearl's Volunteers checking in at No. 10. Here's how Katz explains the pick:

"The Vols are the class of the SEC this season. That sentence alone seems odd. But it's true. The Vols return too much, notably Chris Lofton, who chose to come back, for anyone else to be the favorite in the SEC. Bruce Pearl has quite simply done wonders for the Vols nation in his brief tenure. The interesting dynamic now is how the Vols will handle the pressure of being the favorite, something they haven't had to deal with too often."

Here's a look at Katz's top 10 in order:


2.North Carolina





7.Washington State

8.Michigan State



Two more Southeastern Conference teams, both from the Eastern Division, made Katz's second 10. They are Kentucky at No. 16 and two-time defending national champ Florida at No. 25.

Here's what Katz has to say about the Big Blue:

"Billy Gillispie's timing was perfect. He gets the Kentucky job right when there is a major, power-playing talent nearby in Patrick Patterson. Patterson might have gone to Kentucky even if Tubby Smith had stayed, but he's perfect for Gillispie. He'll work his tail off rebounding and running the floor for Billy Clyde. That's great, considering that the Wildcats want to run with a guard-heavy lineup led by Derrick Jasper, Jodie Meeks, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford. The addition of Patterson makes this team a likely enjoyable watch."

And this is what Katz has to say about the Gators:

"Look, I know you could put a lot of other teams here, teams like Providence, NC State, Clemson, UAB, Notre Dame, Kansas State, Washington, Syracuse, Connecticut, Ohio State or even the next-best SEC team. But I thought about this one for a while and it was clear to me that the Gators, now that Billy Donovan is back, won't slip out of the top 25 and out of contention for an NCAA berth. He's proved to be too good a coach, and the talent of Marreese Speights and Nick Calathes is too high for this squad to drop too low. The Gators will win their home games, steal some on the road and be in the Dance. You watch."

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