Tennessee eagerly awaits its fate in tonight's unveiling of the NCAA Tournament field. After being disappointed on this day each of the last two years, Cuonzo Martin's Vols have built a slightly stronger case in year three and are in the slightly optimistic "should be in" category.
The Vols have an RPI of 42; the last major conference team to be left out with a number that high was Ole Miss in 2008 at 39. Tennessee is 13th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings; no team in the Top 17 in KenPom has ever been left out. In the all powerful Bracket Matrix Tennessee is currently an 11 seed and, more importantly, avoiding Dayton and the First Four.
If the Vols truly are safe, that's the first big question: are we safe enough to avoid having to win an extra game in Dayton? You don't want to go to the First Four for a number of reasons besides the obvious, especially this year with the home team also potentially playing there. In the larger Tennessee Basketball conversation, lots of things this team and its head coach have worked to put to rest would reawaken if the Vols went to Dayton and lost. If a tree falls in the forest in Dayton, did it actually make the NCAA Tournament?
I'll rejoice to see Tennessee out of Dayton and in the bracket anywhere, and after this up-and-down season so should all of us. If the Vols truly are as good as Ken Pomeroy and many of us believe and can play well enough to advance in this thing, then there's an argument to be made for not moving so high up the seed line as to play in the 8/9 game and face a one seed in the second round. You know the Vols can't be paired with Florida, leaving a 1/3 chance of drawing Wichita State (a team we know we can beat), a 1/3 chance of catching a great Arizona team, and a 1/3 chance of catching the selection committee's flavor of the moment. A rematch with Virginia, a team we crushed but who would definitely be up for us just down the road in Raleigh? A date with the defending champs from Louisville? Who knows, but if you want to think about the Sweet 16, that's a happier thought from the 10 or 11 line.
But before we can concentrate on any of that, Tennessee will have to win its first game in the tournament. Here are some likely first round foes according to the Bracket Matrix:
- 6 seeds: VCU, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kentucky (can't face UK in the first round unless it's after Dayton)
- 7 seeds: Saint Louis, Baylor, Texas, UMass
- 8 seeds: Oregon, Gonzaga, George Washington, Tiger High (!)
- 9 seeds: Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Kansas State
Any preferences? If we had our pick within reasonable outcomes, how about an 8/9 game with Memphis leading into a Wichita State rematch? One question even if we're on the 11 line is who's the 3 near us? Right now you'd like to avoid hot teams like Louisville and Michigan State
Here's your thread for all the tension, which will hopefully be replaced by dancing. Fun starts at 6:00 PM on CBS. Go Vols.