In Sunday’s Bracket Matrix, the Vols are holding on the three line. Following the loss to Auburn, Tennessee is the last of the three seeds there, 12th overall. Joe Lunardi’s bracket from Sunday evening agrees. And the Vols are still third in NET, one of only 10 teams with 7+ Quad 1 wins and a winning record against that group.
There are still a couple of scenarios where Tennessee could fall to four: a quick exit in the SEC Tournament, or the committee docking this group for Zakai Zeigler’s absence. As opposed to last season, the committee’s process might actually be advantageous to the Vols this year:
There’s good news geographically as well: while the Vols appear to have no shot at the Louisville region with Alabama atop that bracket, Tennessee does seem safe to spend the first two rounds in Greensboro. With the Vols a clear number two from the SEC and a down year from the ACC, look for Tennessee and Virginia to head to North Carolina. A 3/6 matchup with Duke in round two isn’t out of the question.
I think the biggest thing for Tennessee this week is simply more reps without Zeigler. Santiago Vescovi played 39 minutes at Auburn, with foul trouble limiting Josiah-Jordan James to 26 minutes and Jahmai Mashack to just 13. Jonas Aidoo played a season-high 30 minutes against Arkansas and Auburn as lineups shifted around.
One word of gratitude: this will only be the third run in school history of 5+ NCAA Tournaments in a row. Don DeVoe’s guys did it from 1979-1983. Bruce Pearl’s teams went in each of his six seasons from 2006-2011. And for Rick Barnes, it’s now five in a row (plus the covid year).
In the 64-team format, the Vols have only been a Top 4 seed seven times; this year should make eight. And Barnes’ teams will have half of those: a two seed in 2019, with threes in 2018, 2022, and (hopefully) 2023.
As Tennessee’s master plan for the athletic department uses Top 16 finishes as one of its goals, I like looking at basketball success through the lens of that Top 4 seed conversation: did you have the kind of regular season to make yourself a favorite to advance to the second weekend of the tournament? In UT’s case, even through ongoing injury concerns, that answer should again be yes.