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A closer look at Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament draw

It’s a tough path.

Ole Miss v. Tennessee Photo by Carly Mackler/Getty Images

The NCAA Tournament is set — let the madness begin. Tennessee drew a No. 4 seed in the East Region, landing with the likes of Purdue, Marquette, Kansas State and Duke. The Volunteers struggled down the stretch, giving up a chance to land a No. 1 seed. They ended up tumbling all the way down to the 4-line, drawing a matchup with 13-seed Louisiana to start.

Let’s take a closer look at the teams in Tennessee’s bracket.

The top seeds in the East

No. 1 Purdue

A top five team all season long, Purdue capped a big season with a Big Ten Tournament title on Sunday. Their run through the bracket wasn’t all that impressive, however. The Boilermakers beat three bubble teams — Rutgers, Ohio State and Penn State — on their way to cutting down the nets. Both the Rutgers and Penn State games came down to the wire and could have gone either way late.

Purdue struggled down the stretch, going 4-4 in their last eight games. Landing in a region with white hot teams like Duke and Memphis standing in their way? This is a rough draw for Purdue, who doesn’t seem all that intimidating as a No. 1.

No. 2 Marquette

A slow start didn’t hurt Marquette. A strong finish pushed them all the way up to the 2-line.

The Golden Eagles are on a nine-game winning streak, just squeaking by St. Johns and UConn in the Big East Tournament. They handled Xavier fairly easily to win the title. They have a decent path forward to the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8, with Michigan State/USC standing in their way, then Kentucky/Kansas State after that.

No. 3 Kansas State

Another team that looked great in January, then hit the skids in February — Kansas State holds on to a No. 3 seed. A 6-7 record in the last 13 games has plenty people wondering which Wildcats will show up to the NCAA Tournament. This is a team with some really good wins, but the consistency just wasn’t there down the stretch.

Big wildcard here with K-State.

No. 4 Tennessee

You know the deal by now if you’re reading this. Tennessee’s strong resume propped them up quite a bit late in the year, but the loss of point guard Zakai Zeigler can’t be understated. How far can this team go? As far as senior guards Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James can drag them. Rick Barnes needs both to get hot from three-point range this weekend. If they don’t, it’s difficult to see Tennessee getting too far.

No. 5 Duke

Just a hunch, but Duke is going to be a pretty trendy pick to make it out of this region. There may not be a hotter team in the country than the Blue Devils, who just ran through the ACC Tournament with ease. Pitt-Miami-Virginia was the path, and Duke had no issues.

Duke has now won nine straight and draws a decent path forward in the big dance.

No. 6 Kentucky

You just kept waiting for Kentucky to put all the pieces together, and it just flat out never happened. Every time you thought they did, an ugly loss would follow. Losses to Georgia, South Carolina and two to Vanderbilt have John Calipari’s seat feeling warm in Lexington. Can he make a run to save face? Providence will be a tough out, then a Kentucky-Kansas State matchup in the second round could go either way.

All things considered, this seems like a decent draw for the Wildcats, who could meet Marquette in the Sweet 16.

No. 7 Michigan State

A 19-12 season for Michigan State ends with a No. 7 seed for Sparty, who will face No. 10 seed USC in the first round. Tom Izzo’s group fought to an 11-8 mark in the ultra competitive Big Ten this season, and they were bounced out of the conference tournament by Ohio State.

Izzo in March shouldn’t be ignored, but there doesn’t appear to be much here to get excited about.

No. 8 Memphis

Houston and Memphis ran things once again in a bad AAC conference, meeting for the title over the weekend. Penny Hardaway’s Tigers finally got the better of the Cougars this time around, solidifying their standing in the NCAA Tournament. Memphis had dropped their two previous meetings with Houston in the regular season.

They now draw a really interesting FAU squad, who went 31-3 this year. If they can get past the Owls, they could give Purdue plenty of issues in the second round.

Tennessee’s path in the NCAA Tournament

Tennessee’s path forward — well — appears to be pretty tough, let’s be real. Louisiana could present some issues in the first round, anchored by former five-star prospect Jordan Brown. Brown is averaging nearly 20 points per game and will be a big challenge for Tennessee’s frontcourt.

A win there would mean a likely matchup with Duke, who as we noted, might just be the hottest team in the country. The Blue Devils didn’t have any issues getting through the ACC Tournament as Jon Scheyer’s team really figured things out late in the year.

Beyond that, a very tiny chance of a Tennessee-Memphis matchup in the Sweet 16 is floating around out there. No. 1 seed Purdue would be the more likely option.

Tennessee has the second best odds to advance out of the region, trailing only Purdue. The Volunteers are -140 to reach the Sweet 16, while Duke is +180, via DraftKings Sportsbook. Frankly, those numbers don’t make much sense to me without Zeigler in Tennessee’s lineup and with how Duke is playing.

Tennessee’s section of the bracket features seven teams that have just run through their conference tournaments to win championships. The Volunteers, entering at a low point with no momentum, have their work cut out for them.

The Volunteers will get going on Thursday night in Orlando, set for a 9:40 p.m. ET tip-off with Louisiana on CBS.