Tennessee moved up to a four seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest edition of NCAA Tournament Bracketology that he released on Wednesday.
The font is a little small in this graphic, but hopefully you can see the Vols at the bottom right of the image. They’re slotted in the allegedly favorable South region, though if the Vols made it to the games played in Memphis, that would mean a 350-plus mile drive that could take anywhere from 5.5 to seven hours for fans coming from in and around the Knoxville area.
To be honest, it’s hard predicting the next year’s tournament seedings in normal circumstances. Predictions are little more than educated guesses even then.
But the early suspension then cancellation of the 2020 NCAA season, the delayed NBA Lottery/ Draft and overall ambiguity surrounding the NBA’s revised and delayed transition from end-of-year 2020 to off-season to beginning of the 2021 season just murk college basketball’s situation even further.
College players have until August 3 to decide if they will keep their names in the NBA Draft pool, and that will help de-muddy the waters around which NCAA teams will and won’t be good next season. But with coronavirus numbers surging again in some states, who knows what the college athletics’ landscape will look like in just a month or two, much less the view come October.
As things currently stand, looking at the bracket, the Vols dodge bullets in top-five teams like Villanova, Gonzaga and Virginia by drawing a seed in Baylor’s region of the bracket.
Villanova is stacked for next year. If nothing changes and the Wildcats head into next season with the roster in its current construction, they’re maybe the best team in the country on paper. They lose potential lottery pick Saddiq Bey but bring back four other players who scored in double figure including guard Collin Gillespie who led the team in assists and finished second in scoring.
Gonzaga adds Florida transfer and former five-star recruit Andrew Nembhard to a bunch that went 31-2 last season and led the NCAA in points per game offensively. Per transfer rules, Nembhard has to sit out next season unless he’s granted a waiver, but I imagine the NCAA will be pretty lenient with waiver requests for next year. If he’s eligible, Nembhard seems like a good complement for guard Joel Ayayi. Gonzaga’s frontcourt is probably the best in the country, but incoming five-star guard Jalen Suggs might be the team’s X-factor. He’s supposedly seriously considering bypassing college and playing a season overseas before declaring for the NBA draft.
Tony Bennett brings in the ACC’s No. 3 ranked recruiting class to Virginia, and Marquette transfer Sam Hauser becomes eligible after sitting out last season. Hauser scored 15 per game and proved to be a proficient 3-point threat hitting 40 percent on 200-plus attempts. He should provide some pop to a Cavaliers squad that finished 351 out of 353 in scoring last year.
Shifting focus to Tennessee’s predicted territory, No. 1 seed Baylor likely returns its two top scorers in Jared Butler and MaCio Teague. The combined for 29.9 points and 4.7 made-3s per game. Baylor’s defense allowed just 60 points per game in conference play last season, good for second-best in the Big-12, and would provide an intriguing match up for a Tennessee team that struggled mightily on offense at times in 2020.
Michigan State draws the No. 2 seed in Tennessee’s anticipated section of the bracket. State went just 14-6 in conference last year and 22-9 overall. The Spartans lose spark-plug Cassius Winston and his nearly 19 points and six assists per contest and are adding a small recruiting class, though both guys are four-star prospects. Freshman guard Rocket Watts came on strong at the end of the year by scoring double figures in five of the last seven games. He looks poised to pick up the slack from Winston’s departure.
The Vols draw No. 13 seed Yale in the first round and a potential game with No. 5 seed Louisville in the second round. The Cardinals add two grad transfer players in Carlik Jones from Radford and Charles Minlend from San Francisco. Good news for Tennessee: Louisville is losing forward Jordan Nwora’s sweet shot and 18 points per game a season early to the NBA draft.