Tennessee was revealed to be the No. 3 seed in the South Region in this year’s NCAA Tournament, precisely where pundits had pegged it for several weeks leading up to Selection Sunday.
Fans were hopeful this draw would come with a first weekend trip to Nashville, but the Vols will instead begin March Madness in Dallas. Though the geography is a disappointment, Tennessee received a great draw to advance through the NCAA Tournament.
While the South Region features several great teams, many of them are clustered at the top half of the bracket. Tennessee received a quite favorable draw in its half of the Region.
The Volunteers will begin the Tournament on Thursday against No. 14 seed Wright State, which won the Horizon League Tournament in a mild upset. The Raiders have just a 12% chance to upset Tennessee according to KenPom, but they do have a Power 5 win this year on the road against Georgia Tech.
Assuming Tennessee is able to make its way past Wright State, it will await the winner of No. 6 Miami (Fla.) and No. 11 Loyola Chicago. Though many would be quick to pencil in the Canes, Miami opened as just a one-point favorite in its opening round game. Loyola is ranked No. 41 in the KenPom rankings and won on the road against Florida when the Gators were ranked in the top five. This matchup seems ripe for an upset.
Looking ahead to the second weekend, Tennessee’s most likely opponent in the Sweet Sixteen would seem to be No. 2 Cincinnati. This could be one of the most fun matchups of the entire Tournament, as these teams are mirror images of each other in many ways—particularly defense, where both teams rank in the top four nationally in defensive efficiency. Many advanced metrics favor the Bearcats, but they only have four Tier A KenPom wins. Tennessee has seven such wins and several close losses.
Should Tennessee be fortunate enough to advance to the Elite Eight, it could face any one of several stacked teams from the top half of the South Region. No. 1 Virginia, No. 4 Arizona or No. 5 Kentucky could conceivably meet the Vols in Atlanta. While I personally believe Virginia is most likely to get there, Tennessee getting another shot at Kentucky with a trip to the Final Four on the line would be sweet, sweet justice.
Obviously, Tennessee should not count its eggs before they hatch. The South Region is going to be tough. But if the Vols can make it to the second weekend in Atlanta, a special season for Tennessee could become one in which it advances further than it ever has before.