The Vols are off until Friday night, plenty of time to celebrate an SEC Championship and an impressive slate of awards:
⭐️ #SECMBB POSTSEASON HONORS ⭐️
+ COY : Rick Barnes
+ POY : Grant Williams
+ All-SEC : Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield
+ 6th Man : Lamonté Turner pic.twitter.com/NX4d0mFziJ
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) March 6, 2018
Rick Barnes is the first Vol to earn SEC Coach of the Year since Bruce Pearl in 2008. Ron Widby, Mike Edwards, Bernard King, Ernie Grunfeld, Dale Ellis, and Tony White combined to win eight SEC Player of the Year awards from 1967-87. But since then, only Ron Slay (2003) and Chris Lofton (2007) have captured the league’s biggest individual prize, which now belongs to Grant Williams.
It’s a great week. How might it get even greater for Tennessee?
In Tuesday’s Bracket Matrix (featuring 130 entries!) the Vols are the third No. 3 seed, with an average seeding of exactly 3; five entries have the Vols at No. 2, five at No. 4, and 120 at No. 3. That’s a pretty solid consensus. Is there any room for Tennessee to move up (or down)?
Here are what I believe to be fairly safe assumptions:
- Virginia and Villanova are No. 1 seeds no matter what they do in their conference tournaments.
- Xavier, Kansas, and Duke are fighting it out for the other two No. 1 seeds, but none of these teams are falling below the Vols.
- The No. 4 seeds in the Bracket Matrix – Texas Tech, Wichita State, West Virginia, and Clemson – aren’t passing Tennessee without winning their conference tournaments.
The Vols can obviously help their own cause by winning their conference tournament; we’ll get to that later this week. But between now and then, a few targets above Tennessee in the matrix are in action in their respective tournaments. What losses would be meaningful to Tennessee’s chances?
Also on the table: trips to Nashville in weekend one and, potentially, Atlanta in weekend two. On this front, Tennessee’s neighbors on the three line are the biggest teams to watch. If seeded higher than Tennessee overall, Auburn and/or Cincinnati could secure an opening weekend in Nashville. This is why you’re seeing the Vols in Dallas in a lot of brackets today. The working assumption is Virginia and Duke will go to Charlotte, leaving North Carolina and a player to be named later in Nashville. Michigan or Michigan State (remember, the Big Ten is already done) could also slide in there depending on how things shake out. The Vols will need a good showing and some help to stay in-state.
What would that help look like? Here are games relevant to Tennessee’s chances to go to Nashville and move up the bracket this week:
- ACC Quarterfinals: North Carolina vs Syracuse – 9:00 PM – ESPN2
The Tar Heels did beat Tennessee and are currently a No. 2 in the matrix. But UNC also has nine losses, and will have 10 unless they win the ACC Tournament. No team has earned a No. 2 seed with 10 losses in the expansion era; Wikipedia’s detailed records go back to 1995, and I couldn’t find any there either. Carolina’s name brand will certainly count for something, but will the committee put them on the two line and/or ahead of the Vols if they make an early exit in Brooklyn? If the Tar Heels win here, they’ll face Miami at 9:00 PM on Thursday.
- American Quarterfinals: Cincinnati vs UConn/SMU – 12:00 PM – ESPN2
- SEC Quarterfinals: Auburn vs Texas A&M/Alabama – 1:00 PM – ESPN
Chances aren’t great for Cincinnati getting upset: SMU is 87th in KenPom, UConn a lowly 174th. The Bearcats beat both of them by 25 the last time they saw them. But Auburn? Two of the five teams to beat the Tigers this year are Alabama and Texas A&M. If Auburn is bounced early and the Vols go deep into the weekend, Tennessee should at least move up the ladder for Nashville.