KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee basketball has finally rebounded under third-year coach Rick Barnes, moving up to No. 20 in the AP Top 25 poll on Monday.
The Vols (7-1) topped Lipscomb by an 81-71 count on Saturday to merit the rise from No. 24 in the rankings last week.
Tennessee will put its ranking on the line at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday when it hosts No. 7 North Carolina (9-1) at Thompson-Boiling Arena.
The Vols only loss this season came to No. 1-ranked Villanova, and Tennessee is now the third-highest ranked team in the SEC behind No. 8 Kentucky (8-1) and No. 9 Texas A&M (8-1).
Florida (6-3) is ranked No. 22.
The Vols’ break into the rankings last week was significant, as it marked the first time since Dec. 2010 — when Bruce Pearl had Tennessee at No. 18 — that UT men’s basketball was ranked in the Top 25.
New Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer visited with the Tennessee men’s basketball team last week, and he said he has noticed how the energy has improved since he took over for John Currie on Dec. 1.
“There’s a good energy around the athletic department and I want to maintain that,” Fulmer said Sunday night on the Vol Network. “Everyone needs to keep pulling in the same direction.”
Barnes, looking to get Tennessee into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, said he knows the Tar Heels will present a challenge.
“They are as good a transition team and rebounding team as there is in the country,” Barnes said Saturday after the win over Lipscomb. “They have depth, so it will be a game. Those are the kind of games we want to be in.”