Championship Week: What To Watch For

USA TODAY Sports

While the Vols wait three days to play, here's who else to keep an eye on.

As Championship Week unfolds, there are a couple of things we know for sure. First, Tennessee needs to win on Thursday against the winner of South Carolina and Mississippi State. At this point I don't think it really matters who it is; the selection committee almost certainly isn't going to decide on us because we beat the Gamecocks (208 RPI) instead of the Bulldogs (237). But as you can see, a loss to either would be our worst of the season, knock our own RPI back to 69 according to RPI Forecast - the worst RPI to make the field as an at-large since the formula changed in 2005 is 67 - and negate all of our momentum. We made it this far last year and then stumbled in our first game of the SEC Tournament. That has to change this time around. The Vols simply cannot afford to lose on Thursday.

What we also know for sure is we want no bid-stealers in any conference tournaments. While it's impossible to know the fate of every bubble team with Selection Sunday still six days away, we do know which teams are absolutely out...and we want no surprises from them in any tournaments. It's especially dangerous in leagues expected to earn very few at-large bids, because just one slip up by a team like Memphis can cause a bubble spot to vanish. And that's exactly what happened to MTSU Sunday night, shocked by Florida International in the Sun Belt Tournament, now putting the Blue Raiders and their #27 RPI in the at-large pool. That's bad for the rest of us, and we need as little of that as possible.

So we'd be thrilled with any of these teams winning their conference tournaments:

  • ACC: Duke, Miami, North Carolina, NC State
  • Atlantic 10: VCU, Butler, Saint Louis
  • Big East: Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame
  • Big 10: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
  • Big 12: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
  • Conference USA: Memphis
  • Mountain West: New Mexico, UNLV, Colorado State
  • Pac 12: Arizona, UCLA
  • SEC: Florida, Missouri, Tennessee
There are several other teams at the top of the bubble or in the "should be in" categories in various bubble watches that are probably safe bets or would be by just getting to the conference tourney finals. But to remove all doubt, you want the teams on that list to win.

From there, we'll spend the next three days with our eyes on the bubble. For the sake of this exercise we'll start with the projected 10 seeds in the Bracket Matrix and work our way down. We trust the matrix far, far more than Joe Lunardi's constantly and ridiculously fluctuating updates that I suspect are designed more for manufacturing viewer interest than accuracy at this point, though I'm sure his final bracket will be solid.

With most of the major tournaments on hold until Wednesday, there won't be much bubble action until then - Gonzaga/St. Mary's is the main attraction tonight - but here's what's ahead for each bubble team (with current projected seed in the matrix):

10 Colorado vs Oregon State, 3:30 Wed
10 Cincinnati vs Providence, 12:00 Wed
10 Wichita State, regular season complete
10 California vs USC/Utah winner Thu
11Saint Mary's vs Gonzaga, 9:00 Mon
11 Iowa State vs Oklahoma, 12:30 Thu
11 Villanova vs St. John, 7:00 Wed
11 Temple vs UMass/George Washington winner Fri
12 Middle Tennessee, regular season complete
12 La Salle vs Butler/Dayton winner Fri
12 Boise State vs San Diego State Thu
12 Kentucky vs Arkansas/Vanderbilt winner, Fri
12 Tennessee vs South Carolina/Mississippi State winner, 3:30 Thu
-- Virginia vs NC State/Virginia Tech winner, Fri
-- Ole Miss vs Missouri/A&M/Auburn, Fri
-- Iowa vs Northwestern, 9:00 Thu
-- Southern Miss vs UAB/SMU winner Thu
-- Providence vs Cincinnati, 12:00 Wed
-- Alabama vs SC/MSU/UT, Fri
You'll hear lots of opinions between now and our game Thursday afternoon. The most important thing for us is simply to win...but if some of these other teams want to lose along the way, the more the merrier.

Enjoy the week - the Vols played hard to make it meaningful. Hopefully we get a little help on the way in, but right now we're still making our own luck.

Go Vols.
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