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Here’s How Tennessee Gets a 1 (Or 2) (Or 3) Seed

Rick Barnes leads the Vols January 10 against Vanderbilt. Photo via Kyle Zedaker/UT Athletics

You know, it’s funny that we’re here: most of the Tennessee basketball discussion this past offseason centered around just making the NCAA Tournament. I privately confided to numerous contacts my belief that Tennessee had, essentially, a 50/50 shot at making the field. Anything past that for most fans would’ve been gravy, because the Tournament is weird and weird things happen. Even after Tennessee’s delightful run in Atlantis, I still insisted that they looked more like a 7 seed that would infuriate the average 2 seed before falling short.

Now, here we are: I’m writing an article today detailing how Tennessee can somehow get a 1 seed. Yes, a 1 seed, in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Not in the SEC Tournament. Not in the NIT. The NCAA Tournament. Jesus, what a season this has been. Grant Williams has a good shot at being the SEC’s Player of the Year. Kyle Alexander is the single most improved player in the SEC, if not the nation. Rick Barnes went from around a 65% approval rating that was dwindling to one that might be unanimous, minus the haters and losers on Twitter. No national media member would’ve admitted to watching Tennessee basketball on TV since about December 2010. Now? They might be the single hottest team in college basketball that doesn’t start with a V.

Anyway, back to the original script: yes, Tennessee can get a 1 seed. ESPN sure seems to think so. It’s not likely or something I’d count on at all, but that possibility and more are explored as follows. All numbers are poached from Ken Pomeroy and Bart Torvik, two brilliant dudes with great resources.

To Get a 1 Seed, Tennessee Must:

  • Go 7-1 or better over their final nine games (32.9% odds per, ~32% per KenPom)
  • Win the SEC Tournament (34.8%; 34.3%)
  • Total odds of happening: around 11.2%
  • Final record: 27-6, 14-4 SEC (or better)

Sorry to burst the ESPN bubble, but Tennessee would need quite a bit of luck. Both Bart and Ken’s sites have Tennessee’s most likely finish over the final eight games as 6-2, so 7-1 isn’t really a stretch – they’d just lose to Kentucky and win the rest in the most likely of scenarios. But winning all of those then winning the SEC Tournament (which Tennessee hasn’t done in 39 years) is a tall task. Plus, keep in mind that this would just barely be enough to get on the 1 line: of the last 44 1 seeds, 43 have won at least 27 games and 41 have lost six or fewer times. This wouldn’t mean Tennessee’s a lock to be a 1 seed, but they’d probably just squeak in. But, again: tall task.

KNOXVILLE, TN – JANUARY 02, 2018 – The Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Auburn Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tennessee Athletics

To Get a 2 Seed, Tennessee Must:

  • Go at least 6-2 (67%/66%) and win the SEC Tournament (34.8%/34.3%)
  • OR go 8-1 or better (32.9%/32%) and win at least one SEC Tournament game (~76%)
  • Total odds of happening: 23.9% for first scenario, 25% for second
  • Final record: 26-7, 13-5 SEC OR 25-7, 14-4 SEC

Well, this isn’t quite as difficult. To obtain a 2 seed, the answer’s pretty simple: Tennessee is allowed two losses the rest of the way. Use them wisely: a loss to Ole Miss won’t do you any good, nor will a home loss to Georgia or South Carolina. Losses to two of Kentucky, road Alabama, road Georgia, home Florida, an SEC Tournament loss to a top-six team? Sure, that’s not bad. Just don’t lose more than two. This is pretty attainable, though we should note some win and loss requirements again. 27 of the last 28 2 seeds have won at least 25 games, and only a slight few of those lost seven or more. A 26-7 record makes it pretty darn defensible to give Tennessee a seeding advantage through the first three games.

To Get a 3 Seed, Tennessee Must:

  • Go at least 6-2 over the final 8 games (67%) and win an SEC Tournament game (~76%)
  • OR go 7-1 or better (32.9%/32%) without winning an SEC Tournament game
  • Total odds of happening: 51% for first scenario, ~32% for second
  • Final record: 24-8, 13-5 SEC OR 24-7, 14-4 SEC

Either one of those records should be enough to get Tennessee a 3 seed, though the committee can do some weird things. The 3 line isn’t quite as restrictive as the 1 and 2 lines are: five teams in the last five years have gotten at least a 3 seed with 24 or fewer wins, and they all played at least a top 30 schedule on KenPom. The first scenario would result in the #11 RPI for Tennessee, per, and given Tennessee’s newfound positive reputation with analytics sites, they should be able to slide in as a 3. (The second scenario gives Tennessee a #10 RPI, but a lower SOS.)

KNOXVILLE, TN – JANUARY 02, 2018 – Forward John Fulkerson #10 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Auburn Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tennessee Athletics

To Get a 4 (or Lower Seed), Tennessee Must:

  • Go 6-2 or worse over the final 8 games (67%) and lose the first SEC Tournament game
  • 5-3 over final 8 games (22.8%) and win one SEC Tournament game
  • 5-3 or worse over final 8 games (~33%) without making SEC Tournament final
  • Total odds of happening: somewhere around 15%
  • Final record: 23-8, 13-5 SEC or worse

At this point, Tennessee’s realistic floor is, at the very worst, a 5 seed. In fact, it’s probably a 4: based on 10,000 simulations of the season, Bart Torvik’s site gives Tennessee just a 9.1% chance of entering the NCAA Tournament at anything worse than a 4 seed. That can change over the next few weeks, but for now, it’s looking likely that Tennessee will at least wear their home uniforms through the first two rounds.

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