Last season was a historic one for Tennessee’s basketball program as Rick Barnes took several recruits very few schools heavily pursued and developed them into the nation’s No. 1-ranked team for a good portion of the season.

Following the graduation of several key players and early declarations to the NBA for others, Tennessee has come back down to earth this season as the team’s offense has really struggled to consistently find success against the top competition it faces.

While that may be accurate to say, the future remains bright on Rocky Top thanks to Barnes and the recruiting battles his Tennessee program has won following the team’s ascension to No. 1 last season.

The team’s success on the hardwood led to the signing of 2019 five-star guard Josiah-Jordan James, who is currently a freshman on the team, and five-star 2020 guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson and four-star forward Corey Walker. Those 2020 prospects won’t arrive until next season but their decisions to come to Knoxville have elevated the expectations in for the basketball program for next season.

Just ask Paul Finebaum, who was recently in Knoxville and spoke to the Big Orange Tip-Off Club on Wednesday. After being asked to share his thoughts on Coach Barnes, the SEC Network host gushed about Tennessee’s coach and offered up a strong take on next year’s team after speaking with the Volunteer basketball fans in attendance at the event.

“He’s amazing. I got to know Rick 30 years ago when he was an assistant at Alabama and I’ve followed his career throughout,” Finebaum said in an interview with Knoxville’s WVLT Sports Director Rick Russo. “I had such pride last year when this team was number one most of the season, and it showed what the program is capable of. I know this is a transitional year but based on what I’ve heard here today, I think Tennessee will be number one again next year.”

That may have been an extremely bold take a short while ago but Barnes has proven he can lift Tennessee’s basketball program to those heights and now with nationally elite prospects on their way to Knoxville, Finebaum may just be proven to be right by this time next year.

In addition to his thoughts on the future of Tennessee’s basketball program, the SEC Network host was asked to comment on the speculation that he is considering a sitcom based on his show.

Turns out, the reports are true.

“What they tell you in Hollywood is never discuss this on the air, but it is a fact,” Finebaum admitted. “I was out in Hollywood a couple of months ago meeting with the four major networks and you don’t really know where anything is going in Hollywood. I’ll tell you what, four days and two meetings in Hollywood and my head was spinning.

“I don’t know if that’s really where I want to be in my life, but I feel much more at home in Knoxville, Tennessee than in Beverly Hills.”

Spoken like a true native of the South.