KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee men's basketball schedule will include one of the nation's top mid-major programs for the next two seasons.
Volunteers officials announced Tuesday they had agreed to a two-year home-and-home series with Butler beginning with the Bulldogs' trip to Knoxville this December. Tennessee will visit the Indianapolis program's famous Hinkle Fieldhouse in December of the 2015-16 season.
In its first season in the Big East Conference after moving from the Horizon League, Butler went 14-17 and finished ninth in the new-look 10-team league, ahead of DePaul. It was the Bulldogs' first season under Brad Stevens' replacement Brandon Miller. Stevens just finished his first season as coach of the NBA's Boston Celtics.
Tennessee and Butler are two of 13 men's programs to have reached the Sweet 16 four times in the last eight seasons. Under Stevens, the Bulldogs played in the national championship game in 2010 and 2011 and lost both times, to Duke and Connecticut. Butler has been to the NCAA tournament in six of the last eight seasons.
The Vols won the last meeting between the two programs in the secound round of the 2008 NCAA tournament.
Tennessee also is expecting in 2014-15 to host a game as part of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge and to play in the Old Spice Classic tournament in Orlando, Fla., the week of Thanksgiving in new coach Donnie Tyndall's first season. The eight-team Old Spice field includes Kansas, Michigan State, Marquette, Georgia Tech, Rhode Island, Rider and Santa Clara.
All four of Tennessee's signees from the early signing period in the fall requested and were granted releases from their national letters of intent in the first few days after Tyndall was hired, but the Vols' new staff is trying to bring one of them back in the fold.
Tyndall and his staff were scheduled to meet with Phil Cofer, the 6-foot-8 forward and son of former Tennessee linebacker Michael Cofer, in Georgia on Tuesday night. The power forward with ties to Tennessee is ranked the No. 120 overall player in the 2014 class. He committed to former Vols coach Cuonzo Martin last June.
Illinois point guard Larry Austin, New Orleans wing Jordan Cornish and Georgian C.J. Turman, a forward, all appear headed elsewhere after Tennessee's coaching change.
With six scholarships available for the upcoming season, the Tennessee coaches will be busy over the next few weeks looking for players to add to the program at this late stage.
Former Missouri commitment Kevin Punter, a 6-4 guard from State Fair Community College in Missouri, was expected to make an official visit to Tennessee last weekend, but he did not make the trip to Knoxville and reportedly will visit SMU this weekend.
The Vols have been linked to IUPUI transfer Ian Chiles and expressed interest in Purdue transfer Ronnie Johnson, but it's unlikely at this point anything may develop with either player.
Some options may open up once Southern Mississippi, Tyndall's previous job, hires a replacement. Though Tyndall won't actively recruit any of the five players he signed with the Golden Eagles, those players could request releases and follow the coach if they desire.
Tennessee's staff spent the past weekend at AAU and junior college events across the country.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...