A promising Tennessee men's basketball season will include the marquee opponent in the eighth annual Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Rick Barnes and the Volunteers will face the Kansas Jayhawks inside Thompson-Boling Arena on Jan. 30, 2021. Kansas won or shared 14 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles from 2005 to 2018 and also won the title last season, when the Jayhawks were 28-3 overall and the overwhelming favorites to be the NCAA tournament's top overall seed before the sport was shut down by the coronavirus outbreak.
Kansas defeated Tennessee 74-68 this past January at Allen Fieldhouse in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Yves Pons scored a career-best 24 points for the Vols, who finished last season with a 17-14 record, and a John Fulkerson layup made it a one-possession game at 69-66 with two minutes remaining.
"We're excited about having a chance to play Kansas again," Vols coach Rick Barnes said Wednesday on a Zoom call. "We had a really good game against them a year ago. I guess my disappointment is that they won't be able to get the full Thompson-Boling experience where it would be sold out as we normally expect it to be. At this point, we haven't figured out the issues yet, and we don't know at this point what we're going to be allowed to do with our arena.
"We obviously don't feel like it's going to be anywhere near what we know Thompson-Boling to be like, but as time goes on who knows what will happen."
Barnes believes the Vols still will play Gonzaga as previously scheduled "some way, somehow," but he said that nonconference matchups against Memphis in Nashville and Wisconsin in Madison are unlikely to transpire.
Other notable pairings in the 2021 Big 12/SEC Challenge include Alabama at Oklahoma, Auburn at Baylor, Texas at Kentucky, and Texas Tech at LSU. The two leagues split January's 10 matchups at 5-5, and the past four Big 12/SEC Challenges have yielded a 20-20 deadlock.