Where we stand: Tennessee is 14-12 (6-7), but owns the third-best strength-of-schedule by RPI and KenPom. As a result the Vols are 47th in the former, 42nd in the latter, and still the third team out in the Bracket Matrix.
The RPI is going to punish Tennessee for simply playing Missouri, the same way it rewarded the Vols for simply playing at Rupp. The Tigers are 7-18 and a robust 250 in RPI. RPI Forecast projects the Vols will drop to 54 with a win tomorrow (and a dream-crushing 66 with a loss). When the same site projects the Vols to finish with an RPI of 36 if they win out, the jump will seem more impressive after Tennessee gets Missouri out of the way.
What we don’t know is how many of those bracket projections are already factoring in Tennessee’s end-of-year strength of schedule as opposed to where it stands right now. The Vols are projected to finish with the nation’s #15 schedule in RPI heading to the SEC Tournament, down from #3 because we haven’t played Missouri or LSU yet. We might see Tennessee drop in more brackets this weekend even if they blow out Missouri. But there’s plenty of time to make the math work. Another loss will take Tennessee’s destiny out of its own hands and put it into the selection committee’s, and two more losses will probably take the Vols out of the conversation. But there are only five games left, and two of them are against the aforementioned Tigers at the bottom of the league. We’ll talk more in-depth about what kind of teams get in on the cut line with Tennessee’s next loss. But for now, the Vols still control their own destiny as long as they win.
But you should take Missouri at least a little more seriously. The Tigers started 5-3, then lost 13 games in a row including their first nine in league play. Seven of those 13 losses were by double digits, ending with a 93-54 loss at Florida on February 2.
But then: Missouri beat Arkansas, lost at Texas A&M by three, shockingly blew out Vanderbilt by 20, and lost to Alabama by three.
The Tigers are led by 6’7” Texas transfer Jordan Barnett, who played 8.5 minutes a night for Rick Barnes in 2015. Missouri ranks no higher than sixth (in turnovers) in any major conference category, and is 14th in field goal percentage, three point percentage, blocked shots, and points per game. But they shot 50.9% from the floor against Arkansas after hitting no better than 46.3% in league play to that point. Then they hit 9-of-19 threes against Vanderbilt, their second-best effort from the arc in league play.
I don’t know if Missouri has just been hot or if a team shooting that poorly in league play before was just due. But Tennessee’s perimeter defenders must do a better job against the Tigers than they did in Rupp. Coming off Tennessee’s only non-competitive loss of the season - which would’ve been a success by itself this year - the Vols need to bounce back. Beating this team won’t look good in any ranking, but it will keep Tennessee’s destiny in its own hands.
1:00 PM ET Saturday, SEC Network. Go Vols.