Location: Jacksonville, Florida
TV: SECN until the semis and finals.
Mickey: He's always grumpy in Florida.
Bracket: Here. Tennessee plays Arkansas at 6 PM on Thursday.
Chris and I debated* how to approach this article. We could have spent a few thousand words trying to say the same things we've repeated about UT for nearly 30 articles this year, but we settled on a more generic 5 Questions format. First, the essential details:
- Tennessee's a 7 seed (has that ever happened before?) and gets #10 Arkansas to start.
- Tennessee avoids the 8/9 seeding and the resulting death-by-South Carolina by a tiebreaker over Auburn and Missouri.
- Seriously, South Carolina's going to steamroll this thing.
Ok, onto the questions:
DOES ANYBODY BESIDES SOUTH CAROLINA STAND A CHANCE? AND NOT IN THE DUMB-AND-DUMBER WAY - AN ACTUAL REALISTIC CHANCE
[Hooper]: Seriously, only if Carolina has a bad game in the finals. I just can't see the Florida/Kentucky winner slowing them down (though Florida would stand the better chance). A&M or MSU are the best underdogs in this thing, and they'll need everything in their favor.
[Chris]: LOLNOPE. A&M and Mississippi State seem to set up as "South Carolina, but not as good" at best, and while there's always a chance Kentucky
draws some favorable refs plays the game of their life, I don't see a way anyone knocks off USC.
WHAT'S THE MOST INTERESTING NON-TENNESSEE MATCHUP?
[Hooper]: Assuming Kentucky beats the Alabama/LSU winner, I'd go with Kentucky/Florida. Florida had a surprisingly good season; Kentucky will do their body-press-everybody thing, the part in Mitchell's hair will be as wide as a Florida State field goal (it's a 90s joke; ask your parents), and if Loki has his way, we'll have Mattingly in full NOTICE-ME-I'M-A-PRETTY-SNOWFLAKE mode.
[Chris]: Texas A&M-Mississippi State, if it happens, should be the defense-with-a-side-of-midrange the SEC has come to know and love. I don't really know if that qualifies as interesting, but South Carolina's gonna blast everyone and Hooper already took Kentucky-Florida, so thanks for those slim pickings.
::tosses up 18-footer::
WAS TENNESSEE'S PERFORMANCE AGAINST GEORGIA THE REAL DEAL?
[Hooper]: This from the team that, just one game prior, managed 3 points on free throws in an entire quarter? You have to expect Tennessee to have some sort of lull at some point. They've done it in almost every conference game so far, and I don't think Georgia being Georgia is quite enough to declare that beast dead. Fortunately, Arkansas is a good first game for Tennessee, and if they have any tournament jitters they'll get it over with before moving on to Texas A&M. (Yes, that's assuming a win. No, it's not a jinx. It doesn't work like that with me.)
On the upside, that Georgia performance isn't a fluke. It is the kind of game that Tennessee's been more than capable of this entire year. It's the other reason I like having a 10-seeded Arkansas to start the tournament: it gives the Lady Vols a chance to prove to themselves that they can do it twice in a row.
[Chris]: Man, I dunno. On one hand, this is the time to really turn the corner, and Holly Warlick's teams come together con gusto when they do come together. On the other hand, Andy Landers taught me to pretty much ignore every result against Georgia from now until he end of the time.
So they should be able to do enough to make it past Arkansas even if it's January Lady Vols, but that doesn't give them much time before they run into a matchup against Texas A&M, who--hey, represents a decent stylistic matchup! It probably wasn't a real deal, but at this point I'm not sure beating decent teams by 20 is really real-deal here anyway.
WHAT DOES TENNESSEE HAVE TO DO TO AVOID THE 8/9 LINE IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT?
[Hooper]: If Tennessee lands as an 8 or 9, the committee has a chance to put the UT/UConn rematch in the opening weekend of the tournament, which is just about the most depressing thing I've written this year. A 6/7 seed would avoid UConn until the second weekend and would at least make for a more interesting setting. (Yes, I do think the committee would love to put UT in UConn's bracket, especially with the placement flexibility that middle seeds generally afford.)
So to avoid that, the minimum bar is beating Arkansas. Winning comfortably and verifying the Georgia performance would probably be a more realistic bar. Winning two games would seal it, as Texas A&M is the second opponent. The big problem facing Tennessee is those two losses to LSU and Alabama to end their road games this season. They were horri-awful losses to take right before tournament time.
[Chris]: They're probably okay already, honestly. That being said, don't lose to Arkansas and it should be fine. (Come home with a trophy and there's a chance the Lady Vols walk out of here with a 4 seed.)
DO WE NEED A FIFTH QUESTION? WE DO? FINE. HOW FAR IS TENNESSEE GOING TO GO IN THIS THING, ANYWAY?
[Hooper]: This is our "prediction" question, isn't it? I'll go with "wins two games" because I do so well at these things.
[Chris]: I dunno. Probably either getting bounced by Arkansas or losing a squeaker to South Carolina, because that's how this season has gone.
* - "Debated" is kinda generous.