When last we met…was 11 days ago. Tennessee played its best game of the year in Starkville, turning a 25-17 deficit into a 76-54 victory. The talking points from that win:
- Mississippi State put 6’10” Aric Holdman and 6’11” Abdul Ado on the floor at the same time, and made it their business to deny Grant Williams. It worked on Williams, who had just three shots and eight points. But it left no answer for Admiral Schofield, who scored 24 points.
- Tennessee went to Schofield and didn’t just settle for threes when Williams wasn’t a good option. The Vols were just 4-of-11 from the arc, but at one point made 11 consecutive field goals in the second half. The Bulldogs are a good defensive team – 42nd in efficiency – but had no answer for Tennessee.
- Quinndary Weatherspoon had 17 points, but the Vols took away everything else. Mississippi State made just two shots in the first eight minutes of the second half, and Tennessee’s defense encouraged them to take threes. MSU went 4-of-20 in that game, and is 342nd nationally from the arc on the year at 30.1%.
In the last three games, Tennessee’s defense has been selling out to run shooters off the three-point line (Florida), or encouraging the opponent to fire away (Mississippi State, Georgia). The former leaves the Vols vulnerable to offensive rebounds. But the latter can negate an advantage big teams like the Bulldogs often enjoy. Mississippi State is 79th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, but grabbed only five against Tennessee. I don’t know if we can bank on MSU shooting 20% from the arc again, but I’d imagine the Vols will once again take their chances.
The Bulldogs rise to 67 in RPI, and have to know what a win over Tennessee would do for their NCAA Tournament resume. The same was true 11 days ago, but it’s especially do-or-die now.
Meanwhile Tennessee continues to play for upward mobility in the bracket, and a trip to Nashville in the first and second rounds. We put this in the comments from Wednesday’s look at championship week, but here again is the easiest way to understand what the Vols need to get to Nashville, using projected seeding from the Bracket Matrix. Each of the eight first and second round sites can host two top-four seeds. The committee will start with the number one overall seed and place teams in the closest geographical opening. So if the matrix is a good guide, the field would look like this right now:
- 1A Virginia (Charlotte)
- 1B Villanova (Pittsburgh)
- 1C Xavier (Detroit)
- 1D Kansas (Wichita)
- 2A Duke (Charlotte)
- 2B North Carolina (Nashville)
- 2C Purdue (Detroit)
- 2D Cincinnati (Pittsburgh)
- 3A Auburn (Nashville)
- 3B Michigan State (Wichita)
- 3C Tennessee (Dallas)
- 3D Michigan (Dallas)
If the committee agrees with the matrix and the Vols are the third No. 3 seed, they need to move past two teams to find their way to Music City next weekend. The Big Ten held their tournament last weekend, so there is no additional opportunity for Purdue, Michigan State, or Michigan to impress the committee. But Michigan or Michigan State would still go to Nashville over Tennessee because it’s far closer to the Spartans and Wolverines than Wichita or Dallas (or Boise and San Diego, where every four seed will land).
Meanwhile Auburn faces Alabama in the SEC Tournament’s first quarterfinal game today at 1:00 PM ET. The Vols need to win, but could use some help from an Auburn (or even Cincinnati) loss. The Vols can still get to Nashville even if they’re a No. 3 seed, it just looks like they’ll need to be the first No. 3 seed.
Man, this math is a lot more fun than calculating the bubble.
The journey continues at 7:00 PM ET tonight. Go Vols.