College basketball rankings: Freshmen bolstering Tennessee as it prepares for SEC and NCAA Tournament

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Tennessee was the preseason pick to win the SEC — somewhat because the Vols were returning lots of proven pieces, but mostly because they were adding two five-star freshmen to an otherwise experienced roster.

It made sense on paper.

But then the season started, and those five-star freshmen — Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson — didn’t initially make much of an impact. They both came off the bench in the Vols’ first game against Colorado. One played 13 minutes, the other nine. They combined for a total of just 10 points.

It was kind of underwhelming.

But a lot has changed since December. Springer and Johnson, both of whom project as possible one-and-done, first-round NBA Draft picks, are now in Tennessee’s starting lineup. Each is playing heavy minutes. They combined for 50 points in last Saturday’s 82-71 victory at Kentucky, then 41 more in Wednesday’s 89-81 win over Georgia.

Johnson is getting the big dunks.

Springer is scoring most of the points.

“Jaden is able to score from all three levels,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said after Springer scored a career-high 30 against Georgia, just four nights after scoring 23 at Kentucky. “He’s learning a lot about his game.”

Not to mention making Tennessee more dangerous.

The 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 17.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in his past four outings and is the main reason Tennessee is 4-1 in its past five games. Tennessee is now 14-4 overall and 6-4 in the first two quadrants with zero additional losses. The Vols remain No. 17 in Thursday morning’s updated CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings with a game at LSU scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Thursday’s Top 25 And 1 rankings

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