Doors Left to Open

How much of Gonzaga’s loss is everyone else’s gain?

If the Zags are, in fact, a No. 2 seed now…they’re still almost certainly headed to Anaheim. With the Pac-12 looking like a one-or-two-bid league, none of the other contenders on the top two lines of the bracket are west of Texas. So even if a fourth No. 1 seed is now open, whoever earns it will be looking at a somewhat similar fate as teams near the bottom of the No. 2 line a week ago: headed west with a chance to meet Gonzaga in the Elite Eight, now with a slightly easier path to get there. “Teams will remain in or as close to their areas of natural interest as possible.” And since Gonzaga is the only candidate for whom Anaheim is of even remote natural interest…you get the idea.

With all the favorites winning in the ACC Tournament on Thursday, the bigger question now shifts to, “Will the selection committee put three teams from the same conference as No. 1 seeds?” It’s happened once before in the 64-team format: in 2009, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and UConn all sat atop the bracket from the Big East. Since then, however, we’ve only seen two years with two No. 1 seeds from the same conference: 2016 (North Carolina & Virginia) and 2018 (Villanova & Xavier).

If Virginia’s locked in, does it matter who wins between Duke and North Carolina? It seems less complicated for the Blue Devils to prevail: everyone in the free world wants to put full-strength Duke atop the bracket, especially after Zion Williamson went 13-of-13 from the floor in his return last night. A Duke win would remove some of the luster from Carolina’s pair of regular season victories in the rivalry, as they were Zion-free, and the Tar Heels already trail in NET (seventh) and KenPom (fifth). Another Carolina win would almost certainly ensure they’re a No. 1 seed, but it’s just tougher for me to see the committee putting Duke on the No. 2 line.

Of course, none of this should matter if Tennessee wins the SEC Tournament.

About that…

You know the drill by now: the Vols won the SEC Tournament when it was reinstated in 1979…and that’s it. Tennessee made the semifinals from 1982-84 and again in 1989, and famously made a run to the title game behind Allan Houston in 1991. Since then, the Vols made it to Saturday in 2008, 2010, and 2014, and to Sunday in 2009 and last season. Four times in the last 20 years the Vols received a double-bye, but lost their first game on Friday (1999, 2000, 2006, 2012). This is a historic season, but just winning tonight still qualifies as noteworthy when it comes to the Vols and this tournament.

Tennessee beat Mississippi State ten days ago in one of its finest performances of the season, 71-54 in Knoxville. The Bulldogs shot 36.6% from the floor, 4-of-20 from the arc, and 12-of-22 from the line. They also turned it over 17 times, a signature performance from the defense the Vols will need to advance this month. But last night, Mississippi State burned it down: 53.4% from the floor, 11-of-25 (44%) from the arc, and 7-of-9 at the line in an 80-54 beat down of Texas A&M.

The worst part about the double bye is catching a team that’s good and warmed up in a new arena. Last night’s performance certainly qualifies for Mississippi State. To get to the No. 1 seed conversation and another potential rubber match with Kentucky, the Vols have to go through the Bulldogs first. It will require the poise this Tennessee team should know well by now.

Put the coffee on. We’ll see you tonight.

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Gavin Driskill
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Gavin Driskill

It’s easy to note the similarities to last year…Vols smoked Bully in the penultimate regular season game and then drew them on Friday night. I hope the similarities end there, because MSU missed a wide open 3 for the lead with 9 seconds left and I don’t think I can handle that kind of suspense again 😛

Definitely interested in the defensive intensity tonight. It was great against these guys last time, and it’s what I think determines how far the Vols will dance.