How stats and history would pick the 2022 NCAA Tournament

A year ago today, I published what became one of the most popular posts on this website, about how 20+ years of data accumulated from KenPom and Bart Torvik could tell you what might happen in March. Whether or not it was useful in any real way is frankly up to the reader, I guess. It got two of the four Final Four picks right, including the #1 value pick of the entire NCAA Tournament, Houston. However, it missed on five Elite Eight teams and seven Sweet Sixteen sides. However, it did go 27-5 in the first round, the best record I have ever posted in a bracket I’ve submitted to a bracket pool.

I’m going to be frank. The level of care I have for submitting brackets at this point is pretty low; I am doing this more because a lot of people really like it than because I personally desired to write this. But: there is some sort of enjoyment in sharing a relatively unique perspective of current statistics and previous history to attempt to inform your bracket.

For whenever this gets picked up by people who don’t normally read this website, many of these picks will be wrong. Even the very best brackets miss on an average of 13-15 picks out of 63 total a year. If I missed on 15 total picks, I would be beyond thrilled. I missed 22 last year; maybe that can get below 20 this year. Who knows. I look forward to seeing how it all unfolds.

As a reminder, here’s how all of this works: What this is is simply a game-by-game projection of the field of 68 based on a document I’ve put together since 2018. Bart Torvik has an amazing page on his site with detailed historical KenPom projections of each game over the last 20 years of postseason play. Using that, I’ve accumulated enough data to make informed, quality guesses on how the NCAA Tournament may go.

Along with that, this year’s projections will factor in heavily to provide a baseline of measurements. KenPom’s numbers expect about 5.04 Round of 64 upsets, the highest number I’ve seen in a projection in a few years; Torvik sits at 4.75, a little lower, but still in that 5 upset range. I’ll share the five upsets these numbers would most incline you to pick. Author’s note: many stats were also brought in from this amazing guide to the NCAAT I found on Reddit.

Onward? Onward.

Round of 64

West Region

(1) Gonzaga over (16) Georgia State. Well, obviously.

(9) Memphis over (8) Boise State. KenPom actually has Boise as a tiny favorite, but Torvik and EvanMiya have Memphis as a favorite. Either pick is fine because I don’t think either team is beating Gonzaga (more later), but the favorite in these 8/9 games over the last 21 years is 58-26.

(5) Connecticut over (12) New Mexico State. The metrics average here has UConn at about 71.5% to win; 5 seeds at 70% or better are 28-6.

(13) Vermont over (4) Arkansas. This is probably wild if you’re an SEC fan, but, again, riding the metrics. 4 seeds at 70% or worse to win since 2000 are 7-10. This is also a play against Arkansas going deep; teams at 40% or worse to make the Sweet Sixteen (Arkansas is at 38%) are 2 for 29 in doing so. Catamounts!

(11) Notre Dame over (6) Alabama…or (6) Alabama over (11) Rutgers. Precisely what you needed: a game that you have to wait until Wednesday at midnight to pick. Notre Dame would be at 42.1% to beat Alabama if they played; 11 seeds at 37% or better are 29-21 since 2000 in winning. Rutgers, however, would be at 34%, which is below that 37% threshold. 11 seeds below 37%: 7-27. I don’t know that I really like picking either, frankly, but again, a situation where either winner would be out in my Round of 32.

(3) Texas Tech over (14) Montana State. At 91.1%, Texas Tech is merely one of the eight largest 3-seed favorites since 2000. No 3 seed at 85% or better has lost their Round of 64 game, a perfect 36-0.

(7) Michigan State over (10) Davidson. Utterly disgusting. But: Michigan State, in the metrics average, is at 52.2% to win. The favorite in 7/10 games is 65-19.

(2) Duke over (15) Cal State Fullerton. The general threshold for “oh?” 2/15 games is about a 10% chance of winning for the 15 seed. Fullerton is at 7.6%. I’d love to see it, but.

South Region

(1) Arizona over (16) First Four Winner. No need to elaborate.

(9) TCU over (8) Seton Hall. Either pick is fine here. TCU is favored by Torvik; Seton Hall by KenPom. Tiebreaker goes to the better team as of late: TCU.

(5) Houston over (12) UAB. What a huge bummer UAB couldn’t be matched up elsewhere; I wanted to see them make a run. I guess they technically could. But: at 80.9% to win, Houston is one of the largest 5-seed favorites in modern Tournament history. No 5 seed at 76% or better has lost (17-0). This reminds me strongly of Villanova/Winthrop a year ago.

(4) Illinois over (13) Chattanooga. Technically, this meets our criteria for a 13 over 4. UTC has a 31.2% shot to win per KenPom; we’re focusing on 13 seeds at 30% or better this year. Unfortunately, Torvik has them at just under 23%, and the average takes them out of full consideration. I would not be surprised at all to see UTC win this, though; Illinois is not a strong 4 seed.

(11) Michigan over (6) Colorado State. About once every Tournament, a 6 seed will be at 54% or worse to win their first game. Those 6 seeds are 4-16 in the Round of 64 since 2000. Colorado State is at 50.4% on KenPom and a hilarious 41.7% on Torvik. Absolutely amazing draw for Michigan, at least for one game.

(3) Tennessee over (14) Longwood. Refer back to the Texas Tech stat: No 3 seed at 85% or better has lost their Round of 64 game, a perfect 36-0. Tennessee is at 92%. Feels like the Wright State game all over again.

(10) Loyola Chicago over (7) Ohio State. A tricky one: Loyola is at 54.3% to win per KenPom, but 47.3% on Torvik. Loyola wins both the averaging out and is the better team in their last 10 games.

(2) Villanova over (15) Delaware. So: remember the note about 2/15 games needing to be at that 10% threshold to be generally pretty interesting? Villanova sits at 89.4% to win by KenPom, 90.8% on Torvik. They’re the only 2 seed on either site to dip below 90% to win. Do I think Delaware wins this game? No. But 15 seeds at 10% or better to win, despite being 4-24, have an average margin of defeat a few points shorter than those worse than 10%. I think this one could be worth tracking.

Midwest Region

(1) Kansas over (16) First Four. Again, not expecting much. Similar to how the 2/15 games have a threshold, 1/16 games sit at 5% or above for interest and curiosity. This one is consistently at 3.6%. Skippable, especially since it’s the final game of Thursday. That being said: Texas Southern, if they win their First Four game, has the best defense of any 16 seed this year at 108th overall and did beat Florida in December.

(8) San Diego State over (9) Creighton. FINALLY! An 8/9 game that doesn’t require a coin-flip. San Diego State is at 62.2% to win; 8/9 seeds at 55% or better are 37-6. I would be very surprised to lose this one.

(5) Iowa over (12) Richmond. Iowa is at 82.5% to win; refer back to the “no 5 seed at 76% or higher has lost” stat.

(13) South Dakota State over (4) Providence. Apparently the Giant Killers system hates this pick, but whatever. Providence is at just 57.2% to win. Not only is this the third-lowest mark for a 4-seed ever, I had to institute a new part of the study for it: teams at 65% or worse are 3-7 in the Round of 64 all time, with none of them breaching the Sweet Sixteen.

(6) LSU over (11) Iowa State. Disgusting. Sickening. Makes me want to barf in a bag and pour it on my laptop. Unfortunately, someone must win this game. LSU sits at 62.2% to win, the highest of any 6 seed this tournament, unless Rutgers plays Alabama. As much as I’d like to see all four 6 seeds lose, one of them probably has to win. Even better: as you’ll see in the Round of 32, one of these two may be in the Sweet Sixteen.

(3) Wisconsin over (14) Colgate. Which is because the committee placed KenPom #34 at a 3 seed, the lowest-seeded 3 since 2011 New Mexico (#39), who got ransacked in the Round of 32 by an 11 seed and nearly lost to 14-seed Montana. Wisconsin sits at 75.5% to win on KenPom and 81.4% on Torvik. I would not blame you if you feel compelled to pick Colgate, because 3 seeds at 80% or worse are 21-6 at winning. Still, that’s 21-6. I know that I’m personally rooting for Colgate, because presumably, most ESPN users have Wisconsin at least in the Sweet Sixteen.

(7) USC over (10) Miami (FL). Neither one of these teams is very good, and both are the lowest-rated teams at their respective seedlines. Congratulations to Auburn on the Sweet Sixteen bid. USC is at a combined 51.9% average to win, and 10 seeds ranked 50th or worse on KenPom are 3-13 since 2006. Nasty, nasty game. Nasty!

(2) Auburn over (15) Jacksonville State. Ever since I saw this tweet:

I was rooting for Auburn to draw the hardest 15 seed imaginable. Of course, they drew one ranked ten spots below Missouri. Auburn is at 91.4% to win; the only upset path I can think of is one where Auburn foolishly attempts 30 threes and misses 24 of them. Wait a minute, that’s actually pretty realistic.

East Region

(1) Baylor over (16) Norfolk State. But with a warning: this is the only 1/16 game this year where the 1 is below 95% to win. Baylor is still at 94.7%, so something would have to go wildly wrong for an upset to happen. Still, maybe this one provides some interest at some point.

(8) North Carolina over (9) Marquette. Another easy one: UNC is at 56.1% to win; the KenPom favorite is 57-25 since 2000. Stylistically, Marquette generates almost no second-chances at all, which is a problem against a UNC team ranked #2 nationally in DREB%. This would require Marquette shooting 40% or better from deep to win.

(12) Indiana over (5) Saint Mary’s. I would actually prefer Wyoming win, because Wyoming is subjectively much more fun to watch for me. That being said, they would have about a 31-32% chance to win; while that’s still the best of any 12 seed this year, the hit rate for 12 seeds greatly increases beginning at 33-34%. Indiana would be at 41.2%, easily the best of any 12 seed. If you like upsets, root for Indiana; if you like fun basketball, root for Wyoming.

(4) UCLA over (13) Akron. In general, this is either the worst batch of 4 seeds or the best batch of 13 seeds in a decade. But this game sort of ruins the average on both sides. UCLA is a 2 seed in a 4 seed’s body; Akron is ranked below three teams seeded 14-15. UCLA is at nearly 90% to win; no 4 seed has ever lost above 83%.

(11) Virginia Tech over (6) Texas. I cannot stand picking super-popular upsets like this one. There’s actually more statistical value in taking Texas, because over half of ESPN users have selected VA Tech. The problem is that this upset simply makes a lot of sense. 11 seeds at 41% or better to win since 2000 are 23-12; all others are 13-36. VA Tech is at 44%, the second-best of any 6 seed this year. Considering the stats expectation is that 1.7 of the 6 seeds lose, I would pair this with the Colorado State pick and hope for the best.

(3) Purdue over (14) Yale. An upset would be fun, but Purdue is at 90% to win. Really wish Princeton had won the Ivy.

(10) San Francisco over (7) Murray State. San Francisco is at an impressive 57.6% to win and weirdly isn’t the Vegas favorite. The metrics favorite in 7/10 games is 65-19 over the last 21 tournaments.

(2) Kentucky over (15) Saint Peter’s. Somewhat similarly to Villanova/Delaware, I could see this one maybe being interesting, but it’s unlikely. Kentucky is at 90.7% to win, right near that 10% cutline, because Saint Peter’s is the best of the 15 seeds by some margin and has a legitimate top-40 defense. My guess is more that this is a lower-scoring affair – maybe something like Kentucky 69-56.

Round of 32

West Region

(1) Gonzaga over (9) Memphis. The wild thing about this game in particular is that, in theory, it could be Gonzaga’s single toughest game they play prior to the Final Four. Memphis has played like a top-10 team over the last several weeks and is a legitimate threat. Still, Gonzaga sits at 82.9% to make the Sweet Sixteen. No 1 seed at 82.5% or higher has missed it (18 for 18). I’ll believe it when I see it.

(13) Vermont over (5) Connecticut. The risk here is kind of obvious: what if Vermont loses in the first round? Well, then you lose a total of three points out of 192. Big deal. This is more of a three-pronged bet:

  • (4) Arkansas sits at 36% to make the Sweet Sixteen, per KenPom. 4 seeds at 40% or worse are 2-for-29 in making the second weekend since 2000. This includes Purdue and Oklahoma State from 2021.
  • (5) Connecticut sits consistently at 38-39% to make it on both KenPom and Torvik. 5 seeds at 41% or worse to make the second weekend: 10-for-56. Creighton broke the trend last year, but they did get to play a 13 seed on the way there.
  • (13) Vermont is at 13-15% depending where you look. Only ten 13 seeds since 2000 have been at 12% or better to make the second weekend; they’re 3-for-10 in doing it.

The problem is that only three 13 seeds period have made the Sweet Sixteen. If you want to take UConn here, that’s a fine pick, too. Somewhere, though, you have to try and create added value. Vermont has better versus-the-field value than nearly any other 13 seed to take the court before them. It’s worth a try.

(3) Texas Tech over any of (6) Alabama, (11) Notre Dame, or (11) Rutgers. This one is drama-free. Tech is at 66.2% to advance; 3 seeds at 57% or better are 20-for-26. If you really want to narrow it down, 3 seeds at 64% or better are 8-for-8.

(2) Duke over (7) Michigan State. Otherwise known as THE MOST INSUFFERABLE GAME IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND. Unfortunately, Duke is at 63.6% to advance on KenPom and a bizarrely-high 69.8% on Torvik; 2 seeds at 63% or better are 32-for-42. If we’re lucky, this is Davidson vs. Cal State Fullerton instead.

South Region

(1) Arizona over (9) TCU. Same with Seton Hall. Arizona is at 76.3% on KenPom and 71.9% on Torvik; 1 seeds at 70% or higher are 51-for-57.

(5) Houston over (4) Illinois. With ya, Ken:

I just…don’t get it? Even if you like Illinois in this specific matchup, they’re at just 28.2% to touch the Sweet Sixteen. No 4 seed at 34% or worse has ever made the Sweet Sixteen (0-for-13). I guess Illinois could make it 1-for-14, but I’m not sure what about them is trustworthy.

(3) Tennessee over (11) Michigan. If you are a reader of this blog, you know that this will be a nightmare game for me. The good-ish news is that it doesn’t feel terribly dramatic. Tennessee is at 66.3% to touch the second weekend; refer back to the Tech stat for why those are absurdly good odds for a 3 seed.

(10) Loyola Chicago over (2) Villanova. Here is the thing: in a one-off affair, Villanova would be favored by four points or so. That still means Villanova is the most likely Sweet 16 squad. They’re at 58.8% to make it, per KenPom. And I know Tennessee fans probably want no part of another Sister Jean run. But whatever. I’m showing my work:

  • 2 seeds at 63% or worse to make the Sweet Sixteen are 19-for-42 in doing so. Villanova is the only 2 seed below 63% this season on KenPom. (Duke is at 63.6%, for the record.)
  • 2 seeds at 60% or worse, per Torvik’s database, sit at 14-for-35 in making the second weekend, just a 40% success rate.
  • 2 seeds with a spot differential of 20 or lower in KenPom are 16-12 since 2006. Loyola Chicago is 13 spots behind Villanova, while Ohio State is also pretty close at 21.
  • 2 seeds favored by 5 or fewer points, since 2006: 9-11. Villanova, per KenPom, would be favored by 4.08 points.
  • Loyola sits at 22.2% to make the Sweet Sixteen, per KenPom. 10 seeds at 17% or higher to make the Sweet Sixteen are 11 for 28 in doing so; all others are 2 for 56. (For what it’s worth, San Francisco and Davidson also meet this. Go 10s!) 20% or higher: 9 for 20.
  • Even if this is Ohio State instead, it’s still worth rooting for, but Ohio State is below the 20% threshold for 7 seeds to make the second weekend. (Below: 5-for-46. Above: 14-for-38.)

To win a bracket pool, you have to swing for the fences on a couple of picks. Just like last year, I’m hoping Loyola repays the faith. All of this over a two-point pick. Why do I do this?

Midwest Region

(8) San Diego State over (1) Kansas. This pick was originally Kansas over SDSU. This one is absurdly tough, and it’s one where I have to go against my first instinct, which is to pass on the upset. Kansas is the only 1 seed below 70% on KenPom to make the Sweet Sixteen, and there is real value to be had in betting against them. The problem is two-fold: 1. San Diego State’s offense, which ranks 157th on KenPom; 2. Since 2006, 1 seeds playing 8/9 seeds with offenses ranked worse than 50th are 23-2.

The odds of all four 1 seeds making the Sweet Sixteen are just 31%. This is fully an odds play; I am trusting that San Diego State will overcome their offense to go deep. They are the best 8 seed on the board by some distance, and their odds are significantly better than those of 8 seed counterpart UNC. Gotta swing for it.

(5) Iowa over (13) South Dakota State. Even if Providence wins, this is very easy: Iowa is at 60.4% to make the Sweet Sixteen, and 5 seeds at 45% or better are 13-for-16 in advancing. Quick sidebar: Iowa’s 60.4% Sweet Sixteen odds are the highest ever for a 5 seed.

(6) LSU over (3) Wisconsin. LOL. But I can defend this. LSU has the best odds of anyone in this quadrant to advance at 40.2%; 6 seeds at 34% or better are 11-for-23 in advancing. This is more a bet against Wisconsin, who sits at 34.5% to advance. 3 seeds at 42% or worse are 2-for-11 in making it. What an awful quadrant. This could just as easily be Iowa State/Colgate, frankly.

(2) Auburn over (7) USC. As funny as an Auburn loss would be, it seems unlikely. Auburn sits at 69.5% to advance; 2 seeds at 63% or better are 32-for-42 in making it.

East Region

(1) Baylor over (8) North Carolina. This is the toughest one in the entire bracket for me.

Do I like this pick all that much? Frankly, no. I don’t like either Baylor or Kansas to go far at all, really. But this came down to two things:

  1. Significantly more people are picking UNC than San Diego State despite SDSU having the better upset odds;
  2. In a larger bracket pool, that makes San Diego State the superior value pick over UNC.

I believe that one of the 1 seeds will be going home before the Sweet Sixteen, based on the numbers that show me 1.02 are expected to go home. I think that it will either be Baylor or Kansas. I just simply think Kansas may have the worse matchup.

(4) UCLA over (5)/(12) Doesn’t Matter. UCLA is at 58.2% to advance per KenPom and 58.1% per Torvik; both are well above the standard 53% rate that I normally look at for obvious 4-seed advancements. 53% or better: 15-for-17 making S16. I suppose I’m rooting for the 12 seed to win so UCLA’s path is better.

(11) Virginia Tech over (3) Purdue. Slightly over half of all 3 seeds make the Sweet Sixteen: 48-for-84 since 2000, or 57%. We all expect 3 seeds to make it every year, particularly when their paired 6 seeds lose over 50% of the time in the first round since 2011. That’s just not the case. 3 seeds that actually make the Sweet Sixteen have insane win rates – 50% in the next round! – but getting there is a struggle.

Anyway, Purdue is at 50.5% to advance, per KenPom. 3 seeds at 52% or lower to make the next round are just 19-for-48; all others are 29-for-36. Even if you bump that up to 57% or lower, it’s still just 27-for-58, or a 46.5% shot at getting through. The other numbers are this: Ken’s numbers expect about 2.36 10+ seeds in the Sweet Sixteen. Torvik’s: 2.13. EvanMiya: about 1.96. The message is that at least two 10+ seeds should make the Sweet Sixteen. Three may be aggressive, but in 13 straight NCAA Tournaments, at least one 10+ seed has made the second weekend. The most common number of 10+ seeds in the Sweet Sixteen: three, which has happened 13 times in 36 tries. Try, try again.

(2) Kentucky over (10) San Francisco. This one is sad to say no to. Kentucky comes close to meeting the metrics for a two-seed loss, but at 64.9%, I can’t pull the trigger. Also, this is the nation’s #1 rim FG% offense going up against a team that ranked 90th-best in a significantly worse conference. For the record, I think Murray State would be an even less optimal matchup. The best possible single-game matchup here among the 7/10s may have been USC or Loyola.

Sweet Sixteen

West Region

(1) Gonzaga over (13) Vermont. Nice and calm. Gonzaga is at 70.8% to make the Elite Eight. Not only are those insanely high odds, but no 1 seed at 65% or better has missed the Elite Eight (13-for-13).

(3) Texas Tech over (2) Duke. You may have to wait until the second weekend to blissfully rid yourselves of the Retirement Tour™, but when it happens, I think it comes at the hands of this scary Texas Tech team. Not only would Tech currently be favored on a neutral court, they have superior Elite Eight odds to Duke (38.2% vs. 35.5%). 3 seeds at 31% or better: 16-for-24. All others: 8-for-60. 2 seeds at 40% or lower: 12-for-47. All others: 24-for-37.

South Region

(1) Arizona over (5) Houston. This one was a tough one to say no to. Both of these teams are utterly terrific, and the fact that KenPom’s #2 and #4 teams are forced to play each other in the Sweet Sixteen is an insanity that only European football’s seeding system can match. Again, this is a numbers game we’re playing. The numbers say this: Arizona has the second-best Elite Eight odds of the 1 seeds. 1.97 of the four 1 seeds are expected to get there, per KenPom. We need to drop two of them.

The issue is this: I just think Houston > Arizona is a taller mental gymnastics task than Iowa > Kansas. (Spoiler.) Teams with 44% or worse odds to make the Elite Eight are just 7-for-19; Baylor is at 43.3% on KenPom, while Kansas sits at 44.3%, right on the cutline. Arizona being at 47.2% was enough to push them just over the edge. Houston would have the on-paper shot volume edge, but Arizona would win in the foul department with relative ease and should out-shoot Houston. Tough, but fair.

(3) Tennessee over (10) Loyola Chicago. I would also take Tennessee over Villanova, for the record, as they’re the higher-rated team on both KP and Torvik. I promise this makes some pretty good sense, though, and not just out of homerism. Tennessee’s 39.2% Elite Eight odds are the eighth-highest ever for a 3 seed, per Torvik. The seven teams all ahead of them: Elite Eight entrants. Alternately, just refer back to the Texas Tech stat. There are two terrific 3 seeds this year and two meh ones; ride the two terrific ones.

Midwest Region

(5) Iowa over (8) San Diego State. Even if this is Kansas instead, Iowa is actually ranked ahead of Kansas on Haslametrics right now, and it genuinely may be defensible. Since January 15th – two months ago today – Iowa has played at the level of the 4th-best team in America, per Torvik. Kansas is third, but it’s a virtual tie. Frankly, it just comes back to the numbers: Iowa has the HIGHEST ELITE EIGHT ODDS EVER for a 5 seed at 31.4%. If not now, when? I shudder to think of the Fran McCaffery takes I’ll have to delete.

(2) Auburn over (6) LSU. Unfortunately, this one is straight forward: Auburn is at 48% to make the Elite Eight; 2 seeds at 40% or better are 24-for-37 (12-for-47 all others) and they very nearly crack the 50% super-safe barrier. Here’s hoping for an upset somewhere along the line. Jacksonville State?

East Region

(4) UCLA over (1) Baylor. 4 seeds at 25% or better to make the Elite Eight are 6-for-15, and UCLA sits at about 31-32%. Baylor is at just 43.3% to reach the Elite Eight, the lowest of any 1 seed. With the knowledge that 1 seeds at 44% or worse to make the Elite Eight are 7-for-19 in doing so, I am simply playing the odds.

(2) Kentucky over (11) Virginia Tech. Again, hoping for an upset, but I imagine the miracle VA Tech run ends here if it gets that far. Kentucky is *just* above that 40% barrier to crack the Elite Eight at 41.3%. Statistically, we can expect 0.73 10+ seeds to make the Elite Eight. I feel fairly confident that Virginia Tech is the most likely team to make it happen. Go Hokies?

Elite Eight

West Region

(1) Gonzaga over (3) Texas Tech. Gonzaga is at an astounding 53.7% to make the Final Four. Only 16 1 seeds have ever cracked 46%, and they’re at a collective 15-for-16. Gonzaga did it last year; I bet they do it again this time out, too.

South Region

This should go over well.

(3) Tennessee over (1) Arizona. Again: I’m merely playing the numbers. This is not a homer pick. If I could pick against Tennessee, I would, because doing this makes me nauseous. But I want to show you a couple of things.

These are the current odds on KenPom and Torvik. Arizona sits at 29.1% to make the Final Four on one site and 21% on the other. I think Torvik’s number is a little wild, but bear with me. 1 seeds with 33% or lower odds to make the Final Four are 4 of 40 in doing so (all others 28 of 44). Only one 1 seed this year is better than 33%: Gonzaga. The expected number of Final Four teams that are 1 seeds: 1.36 per KenPom, 1.29 per Torvik. That’s not two. That’s one.

Tennessee’s odds, for a 3 seed, are consistently at 20% to make the Final Four. Those are the seventh-highest odds for any 3 seed since 2000. They’re 5% higher than Texas Tech’s in 2019. 7% higher than Michigan’s in 2018. They are 1.7% higher than Florida in 2006. What I am telling you is this: it is okay to believe that the chance is real. If you don’t know, it was probably even harder to believe Tennessee would win the SEC Tournament, a tournament they had a 20.4% chance of winning.

The chance is there. Tennessee has a 53% chance of playing someone other than Arizona if they can make the Elite Eight. We’ll see if it happens.

Midwest Region

(5) Iowa over (2) Auburn. I don’t trust anyone in this region at all for a variety of reasons. Kansas’s metrics are very weak for a 1 seed hoping to make the Final Four; they’re out. Wisconsin is one of the weakest 3-seeds ever. Ditto Providence at the 4. 6-seed LSU has good metrics, but questionable motivation after firing their head coach. USC is the weakest 7-seed in the field. Miami is the weakest 10. San Diego State is the best 8, but their offense ranks in the 150s. Creighton lost a starter and is a big underdog in their first game. Iowa State looked great two months ago but appears to have firmly ran out of gas, scoring 41 points in their only Big 12 Tournament game.

That leaves you with Iowa, a team that hasn’t touched the Sweet Sixteen since 1999 or the Elite Eight since 1987. It has never made a Final Four in the 64-team era. It also leaves you with Auburn, a team that was #1 at one point this season. Auburn was great for a while, but they have some extremely obvious shortcomings: 258th in 3PT%, a bad offensive steal rate, and a 5-4 finish to the regular season that included an awful SEC quarterfinals loss. High seeds that lose in the conference tournament quarterfinals rarely make positive history.

However, high seeds that lose in the conference tournament quarterfinals rarely get such an advantageous draw. Think about Baylor, another team that copied Auburn’s result. Baylor’s path to the Elite Eight is likely #28 and #8 in KenPom. Auburn: #42 and #19, if LSU holds it together long enough. The problem with that is that Auburn just got done losing to #43 on a neutral court. Iowa, meanwhile, has lost twice since January 31 and has risen to #13 in KenPom, just three spots behind Auburn.

Frankly, this is not a pick I love. If any region seems destined to have a truly absurd champion, it is the Midwest, a region where teams seeded 5 or worse have a 39% chance of coming out on top. That is insane, especially when you consider the other three regions are at 21.5% (East), 14.2% (West), and 29.7% (South). The South Region reasonably could blow up, sure, but most of that value is generated by Houston with 17.6%. The non-Iowa 5+ seeds are at 20.7%, and Iowa has better Final Four odds than any other 5+ seed out there. Ride the insanity.

East Region

(4) UCLA over (2) Kentucky. Enough words. Straight to it: 2 seeds at 25% or worse to make the Final Four are 4-for-62 in getting there. Auburn is the only 2 seed that qualifies to go far enough this year, so maybe I lose it there, but whatever. At 17% to get to New Orleans, UCLA has the sixth-highest odds of any 4 seed since 2000 to do it. I recommend attempting to take advantage of one of the worst selection committee jobs in recent memory.

Final Four

(1) Gonzaga over (4) UCLA. When you say it like that it does sound pretty crazy: a straight-up Final Four rematch. It’s happened before, and UCLA was even involved in it with Florida, but it’s rare. Still, I just like the value of UCLA enough to take a swing at it. I think it ends against Gonzaga. Everything at this point of the tournament is a pure coin-flip, but Gonzaga sitting at 38.5% to make the title game is pretty good. 1 seeds at 33% or better, per Torvik, are 10-for-12 in getting there.

(3) Tennessee over (5) Iowa. Look, if you’re still reading, I think you know how stupid and insane this game even looks on paper. Tennessee ranks higher on every metrics site but Haslametrics and is one of the best 3 seeds ever. Give it a whirl, see how it feels.


(1) Gonzaga over (3) Tennessee. Whether Tennessee makes it or not is sort of besides the point for this exercise. Gonzaga is at 27.5% to win it all; no other team is above 9%. Even Arizona is the only other team above 6.6%. Baylor entered at 8.2% last year, but those numbers were COVID-dampened. 2019: Virginia, 21.4%. 2018: Villanova, 18.1%. 2017: UNC, 10%. Weird champions happen, but the majority were at least in the double-digits. Only three champions have been below 7% to win it all since 2006: both UConn titles and 2015 Duke. That’s 11 of 14 tournaments where an unsurprising champion came out on top. Barring some sort of serious surprise, your champion this year is either Gonzaga or Arizona. I have Gonzaga as the only one of these in the title game, so there you go.

One final plea: please do not use these picks to bet on games or futures or whatever. These are for fun and are the product of a lot of weird research I feel bizarrely compelled to work on. If you want to win a bracket pool, please do not expect much, because I did not win mine last year and have not since 2010. However, I hope this helps.

When You Got Feelings and Guitar, You Wanna Trade It For Cash

SEC Quarterfinals, March 11: (2) Tennessee 72, (10) Mississippi State 59 (24-7)
SEC Semifinals, March 12: (2) Tennessee 69, (3) Kentucky 62 (25-7)
SEC Finals, March 13: (2) Tennessee 65, (8) Texas A&M 50 (26-7)

Perhaps the kindest thing Tennessee did was remove an immense amount of anxiety and drama from the SEC title game not even five minutes in. The game started at 0-0, obviously; it was 14-0 in essentially no time at all. Texas A&M never led, and the game was never within five points after early in the second half. It was rarely in double digits. But you’d be forgiven if you were a Tennessee fan and you were still waiting for the other shoe to drop with Tennessee up by 13 and 90 seconds still to play.

That is how things generally work here. The impossible is always possible at Tennessee. Purdue, one of the greatest shooting teams I have ever seen Tennessee play, can miss half their free throws, but a future insurance agent hits seven threes to win the game. Loyola Chicago can blow a 10-point lead, but win anyway because of a double-bounce mid-range pull-up. Tennessee can make their first Elite Eight, then have to fire that coach a year later. Tennessee is up on an 8 seed by six with four minutes to play, then never scores again. Tennessee can go 30+ years without a single coach lasting longer than six seasons.

Almost anything ends up on the table at this school. One of the only things that truly felt impossible was being able to lift the trophy on Sunday. Tennessee made it to Sunday one time in my life prior to 2018, played a significantly worse Mississippi State team, and lost. Tennessee was the higher-ranked seed in 2018 and 2019 and lost both of those, too. When the year counter increases by one every time out and touches 43, hope feels like a foreign concept.

As with everything written over the last month, this all starts after losing by 28 to Kentucky. I complained after the game that the Tennessee Treadmill had restarted and this team was well on its way to another annoying, forgettable run as either a 4 or 5 seed in the NCAAs. Maybe they make it to SEC Saturday, blow a late lead to Kentucky or Auburn, and this time I just laugh instead of feeling annoyed. 11-5 and 2-3 SEC, regardless of competition, is a record you look at and sigh towards. You beat Arizona at home, cool. Where’s the other wins?

The ratings on January 16 are a fun time warp of sorts. Every team in the top 16 finished 19th or better, which is remarkably steady for a season with two full months left, but the order of those teams became jumbled. At the time, though, you could argue opportunity was nowhere.

Fourth in the SEC with a loss to the fifth-place team below you that seems to have your number under their analytics darling head coach. An offense that, aside from that random Rupp explosion, resembled Iowa football. A sixth-year senior that scored zero points against the conference’s best team. No truly rootable players. Zakai Zeigler had not yet forced a stranglehold on the hearts of Tennesseans. 14th in KenPom is nice until you remember the 2020-21 team was 12th at that time the year prior. It can always get worse. Why wouldn’t it?

So, sure, Tennessee goes on a run that’s at least partially influenced by a lighter schedule. You get some really great home wins that you remember happily, but they’re all at home. The best non-home win remains a North Carolina team that just got an 8 seed.

You head to Tampa, which isn’t even Nashville, playing what’s best described as a fairly potent brand of feelingsball. You will remember this team; will anyone else? Tennessee gets teams stuck in the mud and whatnot, and you like their March odds, but you see Kentucky at second in KenPom and Auburn drawing a mid-50s Texas A&M team and figure you’re in for yet another SEC Tournament kick to the nuts. It never goes well. Why would it now?

Texas A&M wins and you get a little excited. Tennessee takes care of business; Kentucky struggles, but does the same. You head to Saturday with the same feeling of not wanting to be Charlie Brown running at Lucy holding the football for the 43rd year in a row. Tennessee beat Kentucky at home, but again, that’s at home. Amalie Arena was decidedly decked out in blue, almost like it would be for your standard Lightning home game. Tennessee has to overcome not just this, but the officiating pairing of Pat Adams and Doug Shows, the only officiating combo that can manage to unite Tennessee and Kentucky fans in anger.

Tennessee trails for all of 27 seconds in a game that’s rarely within eight points until the final couple of minutes. Kentucky makes their run, and then you remember the critical tenet of Feelingsball: Act like every high point in the game is simply Sisyphus reaching the top of the hill. The rock will roll down. Back up you will go. This should be impossible, but impossible always happens here. Kentucky will do their usual, as will Tennessee.

The most cathartic, signature moment of a game is not a made shot, or a block, or anything normal at all, but a hard-hat lunch pail rebound by a 6’3″ Uruguayan shooting specialist despite being boxed out by a pair of Kentucky players that are 6’7″ and 6’9″. If you could name a stronger, more perfect signature moment of the Rick Barnes era, I would like to hear it. It is absurd, and it is real, and it is beautiful, and it is Tennessee.

And then they win, and then you briefly allow yourself to think that This Is Real. Tennessee got to sit and watch the previously-assumed conference title favorite Arkansas go down to that mid-50s Texas A&M team, who gets to build their NCAA Tournament case on a national scale. The odds, more or less, have never been better. But then 2009 pops back into your head. It can’t actually be real, because it’s never been real in my life. The Feelingsball Team, the one that was born of the mud and drags all opponents into the mud with them, may be incredibly fun. After 43 years, or 28ish for me, you just have to see it to believe it.

All this team had to do was see it and believe it for 40 minutes on a Sunday in March. They were able to when mere peons like me could not. They saw 11-5, 2-3 SEC and laughed in its face. The SEC kept sending its best and brightest to Knoxville to attempt to pull off road victories, and every challenger failed. Then when Tennessee got to head south for a weekend, they took on the conference’s assumed best team and stuffed their top-10 offense in a locker for the entire game. They drew Texas A&M, a team that had played at the level of the 8th-best in America (per Torvik) over its last ten games, and blended their offense into a fine paste with burgundy tones. At game’s end, I thought about wishing my grandfather could’ve made it another month to see it, but his afterlife broadcast of the game was not interrupted by Xfinity and did not include the wire camera angle. Even better.

This Tennessee team has been telling anyone who will listen for two, three, even four months that they are legitimate. That they can do things no team has ever done in the history of the program. That they are capable of creating memories fans and followers believed impossible. Tennessee is two seed upsets away from the Final Four, and only one KenPom upset out of it potentially against a team they’ve already beaten. The prospects of something unforeseen no longer feel like attempting to see clearly through a kaleidoscope. The metrics are there to tell you that it’s okay to feel these feelings:

That’s since January 16, one day after the Rupp blowout, one day after it all felt meaningless. These kids believed it was far from meaningless; it was merely the start of a new season to them. They deserve it all. They gave us the good feelings, and turned it into something people have been waiting over four decades for. It’s worth letting America in on the secret.

Notes section and whatnot:

  • Tshiebwe handled. Tshiebwe against Tennessee, including the Rupp demolition: 9 & 12, 15 & 15, 13 & 11. For a guy who averaged 20 & 15 over the final month-plus of the season, Tennessee was able to figure out how to slow down the National Player of the Year consistently across all three matches. Along with that, Tennessee is the only team to foul out Tshiebwe this season. God bless Mike Schwartz.
  • Star status. Kennedy Chandler this weekend: 14.7 PPG, 5 APG, four steals, and six threes. That’s the closest thing Tennessee has had to a #1 option since Grant Williams departed.
  • THE HOTTEST SHOOTING TEAM IN AMERICA. Or something like it: Tennessee is shooting 39.2% from three over the last two months. The only team among the top four seed lines that’s outshot them in that time is Gonzaga, who is at 39.3%. This is legitimately one of the scariest deep-shooting teams out there. Tennessee!
  • Another team turned to wet mud. Tennessee played this Texas A&M team on February 1 and gave up 1.121 PPP; give Mike Schwartz and Rick Barnes a second-chance and they will twist the knife. A&M went for 0.798 PPP and that was a significant improvement over their halftime pace of 0.667 PPP.
  • Shooting variance goes your way. Teams shot 12-for-56 (21.4%) against Tennessee from deep in Tampa, which is fine. I think it’s good to cash in your luck when you need it most. I don’t think teams (especially Longwood, who is bizarrely efficient from deep on relatively few shots) will be quite that consistently bad against Tennessee, but against a potential second round opponent like Michigan, whose entire season has been “did you hit shots or didn’t you,” seems like it plays in Tennessee’s favor.
  • That being said… Almost none of the shots Kellan Grady or Davion Mintz attempted Saturday had any space at all; I find it no real surprise that they combined to go 0-for-8 from deep. They were off-balance the entire game.
  • Potential new rotation. Rick Barnes mostly went with seven guys on Sunday, eschewing Aidoo for all but three minutes. I ran a study for a D-1 staffer last summer that showed the average rotation size (8+ MPG) of Sweet 16 or further teams was 7.64 players. If Tennessee can be comfortable at eight, I think that’s optimal; you can extend to nine if you have foul trouble or something.
  • Longwood. Preview up Thursday morning. I think a podcast with Jon Reed and Seth Hughes is being scheduled. Not sure about other duties, but they could happen depending on variables.
  • Bracket stuff. Tuesday.
  • The thread title comes from “Donna Said” by Pardoner, a pleasant and pretty good rock song of no great consequence other than the fact the main riff is excellent. I would describe it as a toe-tapper.

Thanks for reading along this season; I hope March never ends. More coming, and if you would like me to be on your podcast or website or something, email statsbywill at gmail dot com.

Show Me My Opponent, 2022 SEC Tournament Championship: Texas A&M

23-11, 9-9 SEC, #42 KenPom
LOCATION Amalie Arena
Tampa, FL
TIME Sunday, March 13
Jimmy Dykes (analyst)
SPREAD Sinners: Tennessee -6.5
KenPom: Tennessee -7

Torvik: Tennessee -5.5


At least with Tennessee, you could’ve convinced yourself pretty easily that they were one minor upset of Kentucky away from an SEC Championship Game appearance. Texas A&M would’ve required quite the amount of mental gymnastics. The Aggies lost eight in a row, lost to Vanderbilt on February 19 to fall to 5-9 in conference play, and were roughly as close to the NCAA Tournament as Georgia. Out of nowhere, they have become one of the hottest shooting teams in the nation with a defense that’s pretty hard to prepare for on short notice.

Tennessee, meanwhile, just put up its tenth Quadrant 1 win and has forced the door open to the 2 seed line after they were once 11-5, 2-3 SEC. Sunday seemed more like a lark than a real possibility two months ago. Now it is here, and Tennessee is 40 minutes away from their first SEC title since 1979 for the third time in five years. If you treat all of these as slightly-weighted coin flips, eventually one has to land in Tennessee’s favor. Eventually.

Texas A&M offense

This was originally previewed back in February, but there’s been some fairly significant changes. I’m still doing the bullet-point structure here because of time constraints. Same basic structure of offense, same general lack of post-ups, same “hit shots and win, or don’t” status.

  • In the first preview, I mention that A&M doesn’t have a true #1 scorer. This is no longer true. Quenton Jackson (14.8 PPG) has been a volcano of recent; since the Tennessee game on February 1, Jackson’s scored 18.1 PPG on 59/40/82 shooting splits. He takes and makes more shots than anyone else on the team and has drawn a ton of fouls as of late. Don’t let him cook the frontcourt.
  • Second banana is Tyrece Radford (10.8 PPG season-long, 13.3 PPG last 12 games), who is scorching from deep: 25-for-44 on threes since February 1. I would consider not letting him shoot threes.
  • The third guy is the same guy you remember from the first battle: Henry Coleman III (11.2 PPG season-long, 11.8 PPG last 12), who remains terrific at the rim (69% on the season) and horrific everywhere else (22.8% on Other Twos). Coleman is a bear on the boards and draws lots of fouls, too.
  • The other two high-usage guys you need to know are Wade Taylor IV (7.3 PPG last 12) and Hassan Diarra (6.8 PPG last 12). You remember Taylor from him randomly exploding in TBA; what you may not remember is that he’s followed said explosion up by going 9-for-51 on threes and 17-for-51 on twos. Diarra, meanwhile, is much less Disaster Factory but just not as notable in either direction; he is simply a solid player.
  • A guy you’ll annoyingly have to watch out for is Hayden Hefner (3.5 PPG season-long, 4.9 PPG last 12), who I don’t think is related to Hugh but is slaying the nets from downtown (11-for-26 last 12) at the moment. It always hurts more when the bench hits you.
  • The rotation is still 10 players deep, which is proving useful against teams like Arkansas that only have seven playable guys. Still, guys like Obaseki/Henderson/Gordon have been in Struggle Mode as of late and you’d prefer them on the court over others.


Texas A&M defense

Same annoying thing to prepare for as you remember. First preview linked here. What’s new:

  • They’ve turned up the heat. Torvik ranks A&M’s defense as the ninth-best in the nation over the last 10 games, with all the turnovers playing a huge part. Teams are turning it over on nearly 22% of possessions against the Aggies; Arkansas gave it up on almost 21%.
  • Some of this heat has been driven by…wait for it…luck. Shocker! Teams are shooting 26.5% from three against A&M over the last 10. Part of this is, obviously, good defense. Another part of this is A&M, a team with a 50/50 Guarded/Unguarded rate, seeing opponents shoot 30.9% on open threes and 19.8% (!) on guarded ones. The former is probably a little more sustainable than the latter.
  • Defensive rebounding remains a problem. A&M has allowed their opponents to rebound 32% of misses over this 10-game run, which ranks 318th-best nationally. It was almost entirely why they nearly lost to Florida and Auburn despite both teams shooting very poorly.
  • It remains relatively easy to score at the rim against this team. Opponents are hitting at nearly a 64% rate over this 10-game run, per Synergy.
  • The big key is still finding ways to score in general half-court offense. When A&M slows an opponent down, it becomes pretty hard to generate points; they rank in the 86th-percentile or better against ISOs, post-ups, and ball screens.

How Tennessee matches up

The first game was more or less Tennessee forcing A&M to solve a math problem: does 3 > 2, or does it not? Tennessee hit 11 threes to A&M’s seven in a game Tennessee won by 12. That game featured A&M hitting some wild shots, which we’ll touch on, but for the most part, Tennessee identified early on that the Aggies couldn’t stop the drive-and-kick game. Tennessee generated 24 catch-and-shoot threes in the first game, and Synergy deemed 18 of them to be open (AKA, no defender within four feet of the shooter). That’s a heck of a rate.

A similar thing will have to happen here to win this game. I don’t know that Tennessee needs to shoot 42% from deep to win again, but against an A&M team that has become the Golden State Warriors of Tampa Bay, maybe you do. Tennessee will likely have to go deep in the clock against an Aggies side that slowed Auburn down into their second-slowest game of the last month. If so: gotta move the ball, gotta hit the nail on the free throw line, gotta look for the open man. Play smart basketball and such.

Along with this: get some good twos. A&M’s biggest struggles defensively this year have come against teams that are either good at converting second chances via the glass or hammer the rim with a variety of off-ball cuts and screens. To boot, Tennessee’s 1.261 PPP in the first A&M game is still the worst defensive efficiency surrendered by the Aggies all season. The threes were one thing, but Tennessee getting 10 points off of nine basket cuts were something else worth noting.

The two missed shots on cuts were via fadeaway jumpers; the cuts that ended in layup/dunk attempts were a perfect 100% FG%. A&M is hyper-aggressive on defense, which lends itself well to forcing turnovers, but they can get drawn away from the basket and give up easy looks down low. Tennessee’s guards need to be smart in taking advantage of the open space down low, just as they did the first time out.

Defensively…don’t turn it over? Texas A&M scored 29 points on 21 transition possessions in the first game; the other 51 offensive possessions resulted in 51 points. You can survive A&M going for 1 PPP, but banking on a second-consecutive 1.2+ PPP game is probably not that realistic. If Tennessee takes care of the ball and forces A&M into half-court offense, the game will look and feel like your average Tennessee basketball game: Sludge City, USA.

A&M spent a lot of time in ball screens in the first game and more or less did nothing with them. Synergy credits the Aggies as putting up just seven points on Tennessee over the course of 18 possessions, which is atrocious. Tennessee completely shut down what Texas A&M primarily wanted to do, and it took lots of fouls and OREBs and a couple crazy shots for A&M to stay in the first game. (Also a serious overperformance on free throws: 21-for-25, or +4 above what they’d be expected to shoot.) If Tennessee continues to own the pick-and-roll, forcing Texas A&M’s ball-handlers into tough decisions, I think they win this game.

I mean: Tennessee is 40 minutes away from the first SEC Championship since many readers were born, including myself. They’re expected to win by every metric system in existence. Whatever it takes to win, win.

Starters + rotations

Three things to watch for

  • Turn the faucet off. Texas A&M is an impressive 15-0 when posting an eFG% of 53% or better and 8-11 otherwise. This is generally driven by how well they do/don’t hit threes; A&M is also 12-1 when shooting 40% or better from deep. A&M just posted its two best 3PT% performances of the entire season in this tournament, which is either a great sign if you believe in regression to the mean or a terrible one if you believe that we live in a painful simulation.
  • Can Tennessee choose its shots wisely? In the first battle, Tennessee only got 15 shots at the rim, but they went 13-for-15 and hit threes, so they won. A situation where Tennessee is not taking numerous mid-range jumpers is ideal; you really should be able to generate open threes with fair consistency as you did the first time.
  • Officiatin’. Well, obviously. But I mean it this time: A&M is 18-2 when the opponent shoots 20 or fewer free throw attempts and 5-9 otherwise.

Key matchups

Quenton Jackson vs. Josiah-Jordan James. Individual plus-minus is about as useful as nothing at all, but sometimes it’s right: Tennessee was +8 with James in the game for 30 minutes yesterday and -1 in 10 minutes without him. They’ll need James for 35 to slow down one of the hottest scorers in America.

Henry Coleman III vs. Center Roulette. Coleman has held steady throughout the year as a terrific rebounder and quality foul-drawer that nonetheless cannot create his own shot very well. If Tennessee restricts him to just rebounds and exploits his lack of verticality on defense, they could create a significant advantage.

Tyrece Radford vs. Santiago Vescovi. Pretty simple matchup: who shoots better? Radford is blistering the nets at the moment, but Vescovi may be the SEC’s best deep shooter.

Three predictions

  1. Santiago Vescovi hits four threes;
  2. Tennessee wins three of the Four Factors and commits fewer fouls;
  3. Tennessee 69, Texas A&M 63.

Show Me My Opponent, 2022 SEC Tournament: Kentucky (III)

OPPONENT #5 Kentucky
26-6, 14-4 SEC, #2 KenPom
9-16, 8-9 SEC, lol lol lol lol 2020-21
LOCATION Amalie Arena
Tampa, FL
TIME Saturday, March 12
3:30 PM ET
Jimmy Dykes (analyst)
SPREAD Sinners: Kentucky -3
KenPom: Kentucky -2

Torvik: Kentucky -1.1

You again. You again!!!!

Both of these teams took care of business yesterday, which is pretty useful at a time where the #1 seed in the SEC Tournament lost and the #11 seed gave Kentucky quite the 40-minute battle. Tennessee enters this game playing for a potential 2-seed, Kentucky possibly for the final 1 seed. This is also a great narrative battle: John Calipari vs. the only coach that’s beaten him with regularity in the SEC. John Fulkerson vs. the team he’s owned in years past but not so much in 2022. Kennedy Chandler vs. a fellow first-round pick. Shooter vs. shooter in Grady vs. Vescovi.

This is a great basketball game played on a day where you have nothing else to do but look at the snow and smile. What’s better than this? Just guys being dudes.

Kentucky’s offense

Well, I’ve previewed this team twice already, and 18 hours is not a great amount of time to write much in the way of new observations. That being said, here are the major changes.

  • Leading scorer and likely Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe (17.1 PPG, 15.2 RPG) has gone to a new level over the last month: 20.6 PPG, 15.6 RPG over a nine-game stretch where six opponents were among KenPom’s top 50 teams. Not bad, that.
  • TyTy Washington (12.6 PPG) and Sahvir Wheeler (10 PPG), the two point guards, both missed a pair of games with injuries, but are back to full health. Washington in particular was terrific against Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals.
  • A player stepping up: Jacob Toppin, who’s averaged 7.6 PPG/4 RPG over the last eight. Toppin still remains less than impactful as a shooter, but he’s unstoppable in the paint when he chooses to go there. His height/agility may be unmatched on UK’s roster.
  • A player stepping down: Keion Brooks, who’s averaged just 8 PPG (#6 on the team) in that same span. Brooks is 13-for-15 at the rim and 12-for-38 everywhere else to go with a team-worst 22% TO% rate.
  • Everything else is the same. Grady hits threes. Mintz does too, just not as much. The rotation is now firmly down to seven players, with Lance Ware being the occasional eighth.


Kentucky’s defense

Same as above. Two previews linked here; updates:

  • The offense has lost no steam whatsoever and has only gotten better; I cannot say the same about the defense. It’s been the 84th-best defense in CBB over Kentucky’s last 10 games, per Torvik, and recently fell outside the KenPom top 25 for the first time since Christmas.
  • This is because of a pair of serious issues: no turnovers being forced and mediocre defensive rebounding. Kentucky’s only forced turnovers on 15% of opponent possessions (300th-best) and has allowed OREBs on 30.6% of missed shots (284th) since February 2. The DREB% is more defensible because these are largely very good rebounding teams, but the complete lack of turnovers forced is a problem.
  • Along with this: the interior/two-point defense is…strangely average? Kentucky ranks 74th in season-long 2PT% allowed, which would be very good for many programs but is the third-worst rate of the Calipari era. Over the last 10, opponents are converting 49.2% of twos, which ranks 148th-best.
  • The key is still that they never foul. Among the seven-man rotation, no player has averaged more than 3.4 fouls per 40 over the last month, and Tshiebwe sits at an astounding 2.4. Tennessee got him in foul trouble on home court, but a neutral court feels like tough sledding.
  • None of the individual Kentucky defenders grade out as obviously bad, but Brooks has the worst Synergy metrics and on/off splits via Hoop-Explorer. His main matchup: Josiah-Jordan James.

How Tennessee matches up

Two consistencies have happened in Tennessee’s two battles with Kentucky:

  1. Tennessee has gotten a surprising amount of open catch-and-shoot threes via drive-and-kick actions;
  2. Tennessee has used off-ball screens to create quality ball movement, which has led to a surprising amount of easy points at the rim.

Considering it’s held true for two, the first should probably work for three. Kentucky’s roster construction lends itself to quality perimeter defense for most opponents, but something about the off-ball motion of Tennessee’s offense has given them a higher shot quality than most. I don’t know that I could fully explain it, but part of this is just that Tennessee’s frontcourt sets a ton of perimeter screens, and Kentucky’s frontcourt (AKA, Tshiebwe) are not often willing to leave the paint. This is how you create sink-and-shoot scenarios as such:

If Kentucky continues to struggle to cover the perimeter against Tennessee specifically, I remain confident that Tennessee can find a points advantage outside of the paint. They’ve outscored Kentucky by nine on threes through two games, which is pretty important for a game projected to be very close.

The other part of this is utilizing some of Tshiebwe’s defensive limitations. As amazing a shot-blocker and rebounder as he is, you can still pull him away from the paint if you pull your frontcourt pairing out of the paint. Tennessee has consistently done this since Nkamhoua went out, which is nice, because I think most people had grown tired of Tennessee’s post-up addiction. They’ll still do it some, but it won’t be that often. This is useful because if you draw Tshiebwe out, that leaves a gap down low that basically no other UK rotation member can replace. Cutting to the basket at this time is how you generate points consistently.

The Kentucky defense is the significantly lesser unit of the two. Can it still choke out an opponent? Of course, because they’re crazy talented. But their struggle in putting away teams with defense as of late is of serious interest. You’ve gotta be able to do that to make the Final Four. I know Tennessee can. What about Kentucky?

Anyway, the defensive side of this is pretty similar to the last two: do whatever you can to wall off the paint and force Kentucky to shoot over the top of it. Kentucky has had games where they’ve shot well, but threes aren’t exactly their forte. Tennessee fixed the ball-screen issue at TBA, but they’re still giving up some good looks from deep to Kentucky. If Tennessee turns these into guarded, tough threes:

They can easily win this game. Then again, the guy shooting that is Kellan Grady, who is absurdly good from anywhere. Tennessee’s gotta hope for positive variance in their favor and a favorable officiating crew that lets some contact go between Tshiebwe and the various centers.

Starters + rotations

Three things to watch for

  • Consider this: hit shots. This is going to be the first bullet of this section until the end of time, or at least until I think of something else. All six of Kentucky’s losses have come when the opponent has posted a 50% eFG%, which Tennessee has managed to do both times out. Likewise, UK is 20-1 when posting 50% or better.
  • How big can you be on the boards? Kentucky’s posted a 40% or better OREB% in five of the last eight games, which is insane considering the competition. Adjusted for competition, Tennessee has been one of the ~25 best defensive rebounding teams this season. If Tennessee can find a way to keep that Kentucky number at 30% or so, it’s a good sign.
  • Is TyTy the guy? Tennessee can reasonably survive a great Tshiebwe game if no one else steps up to help. The TBA win would’ve happened regardless, but it was obviously helped by Washington being hobbled somewhat. Washington was fantastic against Vandy yesterday; a Tennessee win is very reliant on him not following that up.

Key matchups

Oscar Tshiebwe vs. Center Roulette. Typing that out is anxiety-inducing. Tshiebwe is the POY front-runner; Tennessee’s best frontcourt player is entirely up to debate on any given night. If Tennessee holds Tshiebwe to similar numbers as posted in TBA (13 & 15 on 5-15 shooting) it’s a massive win.

TyTy Washington Jr. vs. Santiago Vescovi. Washington will end up being matched with a few different guys, but Vescovi should get the lion’s share of minutes and could potentially go a full 40 if not in foul trouble. Washington is a terrific mid-range shooter but is vulnerable to variance from deep; Vescovi may be the single best deep shooter in the league. Exciting matchup!

Sahvir Wheeler vs. Kennedy Chandler. Wheeler’s best attribute is his speed, which can blind opponents on his best nights. The unfortunate part of it for Wheeler is that his shooting is not often matching his agility. If Chandler can force Wheeler into a lot of pull-ups or runners, I will be with all of the people who say he should be on the All-Defense team. (He probably should’ve been on a 10-man All-Defense team.)

Three predictions

  1. Tshiebwe puts up another double-double (17 & 13 or so) but requires 15 shots to get there;
  2. Josiah-Jordan James leads Tennessee in scoring;
  3. Kentucky 69, Tennessee 68.

Show Me My Opponent, 2021-22: Mississippi State (II)

OPPONENT Mississippi State
18-14, 8-10 SEC, #44 KenPom
18-15, 8-10 SEC, NIT runner-up 2020-21
LOCATION Amalie Arena
Tampa, FL
TIME Friday, March 11
Dane Bradshaw (analyst)
SPREAD Sinners: Tennessee -8
KenPom: Tennessee -6

Torvik: Tennessee -6.2

One of the nice things about basketball is that you can just point at a calculator and say 3 > 2 sometimes. This doesn’t always work, because it is better to be good at both than to be good at one or the other. However, if you’re blatantly bad at one or if you’re living out 1984 and telling your team that 2 + 2 = 5, this turns into a problem. As such, I think this explains Mississippi State basketball, a team that is 0-10 as an underdog (18-4 as favorite) in part because they do not understand that threes are a part of modern basketball.

Tennessee enters this game on a heater, having won 12 of 14 despite losing a starter to season-ending injury. Mississippi State did blow out South Carolina last night, but this may be window-dressing on a season that began 13-5, 4-2 SEC and is now 18-14, 8-10. Ben Howland’s job is in serious limbo, with buzz growing on ESPN+ articles that his time is drawing to a close in Starkville. If only he had the TI-83 to add 2 and 3 together.

Mississippi State’s offense

Tennessee played this team barely a month ago, so you can read a full overview of the offense from the first post. These are the updates:

  • After losing a must-win game, Ben Howland panicked his way into trying three new starting lineups before eventually arriving back at the one they started against Tennessee. Nothing has changed, but I figured you might smile at that.
  • As State’s season has turned into desperation mode, the best player hasn’t been the guy everyone would expect, but rather Tolu Smith (13.8 PPG/6.2 RPG season-long, 15.5 PPG/6.1 RPG last 8 games). Smith is attempting nearly 6 FTs a game, has put up a 72.7% FG% on 55 rim attempts, and has become the co-#1 option offensively.
  • The other is the obvious: Iverson Molinar (17.8 PPG). Molinar had a great season, but since the Tennessee game he’s taken a significant hit: 44% on twos and 14% (!) on threes, both of which are 9% and 12% decreases from season-long numbers. A 39.9% eFG% in the month your team needs you most is egregious.
  • Beyond that, no one has averaged more than 8.1 PPG since the Tennessee game. Next up on the scoring list is D.J. Jeffries at 9.4 PPG season-long, but his usage rate is barely above that of Justin Powell’s.
  • The most efficient guy right now is Andersson Garcia (6.5 PPG/5.8 RPG since February 9), but his impact is more felt on defense and his main source of scoring income is an incredible ability to draw fouls.
  • Here’s the stat that I feel sums up why Ben Howland will be either retired or coaching somewhere else in a year: over the last nine games, no Mississippi State player has made more than five three-pointers. The team as a whole since February 9: 17.8% from deep on 112 attempts.

CHART! Small updates from the first time. Rocket Watts was DFA’d picked up a practice injury and seems done for the year.

Mississippi State’s defense

First preview is linked here. Updates:

  • State’s defense has surprisingly strengthened a tad since last time out; Torvik ranks them as 40th-best over the last 10 games.
  • The problem is that this is largely driven by an opponent 28.2% hit rate on threes, which I would be more inclined to believe in if State wasn’t posting a 52/48 Guarded/Unguarded rate. That’s about average, which is fine, but 28.2% is significantly below average. Regression coming.
  • Everything else is more or less the same. Context-free stats would indicate a defensive rebounding flaw, as opponents have rebounded 30% of their misses over the last month-plus (#265 nationally). However, that’s 2.5% below expectation, as the opponents have averaged 32.5% this season. Still good.
  • The scariest guy on defense right now is Garcia, who has posted 12 steals in the last six games. State’s defense is 8.2 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the court.
  • Nothing else new to report. State still doesn’t press unless it’s desperation time and never runs a zone defense. Something interesting is that of State’s five lowest 3PA% allowed this season, four have come in the last eleven games. State doesn’t have much in the way of rim protection and has consistently sat in the 200s in 2PT% allowed, so opponents don’t see much of a reason to bomb away all that often.

How Tennessee matches up

No GIFs today, sorry. Free time has been very limited this week. Back tomorrow, if applicable.

The fundamental yes/no question in every Mississippi State game this year has been if the opponent hit enough shots or not. I guess that holds for literally every team ever constructed, but it feels especially pertinent for State. The Bulldogs are a perfect 15-0 when winning the eFG% battle this season; they are 3-14 otherwise. It’s pretty stark, but it helps making preview a game on short notice very easy: hit your shots, win the game.

Tennessee’s largest and most consistent source of points this season has been simple: a guard drives the ball to the paint, then kicks out to an open shooter. Generally, this has been Santiago Vescovi or Josiah-Jordan James, but it could be anybody on the right night. If Tennessee gets quality paint penetration in this game, it’s going to open up a lot of looks from deep against one of the least-positive perimeter defenses the league has to offer. Tennessee’s main issue in this game, to me, is avoiding settling for mid-range jumpers like they did in the first battle. You’ve got to look for threes first; threes will be what drives the separation factor.

Along with this, State has done a poor job of defending ball screens this year. Synergy places them as 30th-percentile in P&R defense over the course of the season. Tennessee doesn’t usually run many ball screens, but in the first game, they posted more P&R possessions (21) than they had in all but two other SEC regular season games. Clearly, Barnes and company see this as an area of opportunity.

The key is to utilize the passing ability of the ball-handler. Chandler and Zeigler can pressure the rim very well, but it’s their passing ability that could really open this game up for Tennessee. A well-timed pass to the roll man can both provide two points and help sink State inward to open more looks from deep.

The defensive side of this is a curious and weird case. For once, you don’t really have much fear of the opponent out-shooting you from deep. No high-major basketball team gets a lower percentage of its points from three than Mississippi State; just once since the Tennessee game have they hit more than three threes. Instead, this is all about protecting the rim. State will take a bunch of mid-range twos and you’ve got to live with that, but making sure the shots at the rim are well-contested and hard to convert is of utmost importance.

State’s biggest drivers of points down low have unsurprisingly been Molinar and Smith, but in half-court play, it’s Smith’s basket cuts that have shredded opponents. Tennessee has to toe the delicate line between committing too much to a driving Molinar and overplaying to allow Smith open while also not undercommitting to Molinar. The good news I can share is that Tennessee remains an excellent basket cut defense. In the first game, State only scored four points on seven cuts. It took a significant shooting overperformance for them to stay in the game. Absent that, Tennessee needs to control this game within five feet of the rim.

Starters + rotations

Metric explanations: Role is algorithmically-determined by Bart Torvik. MPG is minutes per game. PPG/RPG/APG/Fouls/Twos/Threes are what you’d guess. USG% is the percentage of possessions a player uses on the court. OREB%/DREB% are your available rebounds usurped. Finally, PRPG! is Bart Torvik’s Points Over Replacement metric; the higher the better. If you’re on mobile, zoom in; if on desktop, right click -> Open Image in New Tab.

Three things to watch for

  • Make shots. Again, the stat: State is 15-0 when they win eFG%, 3-14 when they lose. If Tennessee hits 8-9 threes in this one I’m not really sure how State would overcome that beyond either turnovers or a foul parade.
  • Frontcourt production. Mississippi State obviously has the best player of either frontcourt in Smith, but can Tennessee find someone that’s better than Garrison Brooks at the 4? This is a game I’d expect Josiah-Jordan James to show out.
  • Protect the boards. Mississippi State is 2-6 this year when held to a 30% OREB% or lower; Tennessee, in their first post-Nkamhoua game, held State to 28% the first time out. I guess people are allowed to live in fear after the Arkansas rebounding issues, but that’s the only time Tennessee’s gotten got on the boards in a surprising manner since the injury.

Key matchups

Iverson Molinar vs. Kennedy Chandler. And also Zakai Zeigler. Molinar may play all 40 in this one and has regularly taken on 35-36 minutes a night as of late. His shooting post-Vols (38.8% eFG%) has been atrocious, but I would prefer to not let this be the game he reheats.

Tolu Smith vs. Center Roulette. So, as of now, Center Roulette’s main minutes-getter is Jonas Aidoo…which would be fine if he wasn’t almost tied with Uros Plavsic for center minutes. Roulette it remains. Anyway, Smith has been State’s best player over the last month and can change the game with how frequently he draws fouls.

Garrison Brooks vs. Josiah-Jordan James. This will be BHH to start, but James will most commonly draw the matchup. Brooks is 14-for-50 on everything that’s not a layup/dunk over the last month and frankly may be State’s worst defender; this is why I think James could have a big game.

Three predictions

  1. This is the final game Ben Howland coaches at Mississippi State, but NOT because he is fired;
  2. Chandler and Vescovi combine for 10 assists;
  3. Tennessee 69, Mississippi State 61.

2021-22 Bracketology, Vol. 3: where Tennessee stands, SEC Tournament scenarios, and possible draws

If you missed the previous two editions, here’s Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.

Well, hey: this has been a pretty fun season. I’ve had a decent-enough time writing about it. Now, we get to a month that is either torture or more torture, no matter who you root for.

I promise that March can be, and should be, fun. You’ve just got to let it be fun in the first place. What could be more fun than exploring numerous hypotheticals that may or may not come true? For a stats obsessive like myself, it’s my college hoops prime time: all sorts of scenarios, many of which do not really exist.

Cutting to the chase here because this is a long post: these are the six things I’m covering in today’s article.

  • Where Tennessee stands, bracket-wise, as of March 7
  • Various SEC Tournament scenarios and seeding potentials
  • Partner likelihoods
  • Best 1/2/3/4/etc. seeds to pair with
  • Location likelihoods

This is the same format as Volume 2, which was posted just over a week ago, which makes sense to me. Based on feedback from various readers, I’ve tweaked some of the sourcing here and am trying to incorporate what the Bracket Matrix views as the very best bracketologists, alongside with the stats stuff you already know about. Onward!

Where does Tennessee stand at this moment?

Prior to this weekend, it felt like Tennessee would likely lock themselves in at no worse than a 3 seed by beating Arkansas. I think that still remains the case, but after Duke lost at home to a mediocre North Carolina team and Wisconsin lost at home to a wretched Nebraska side missing a starter, you can start to envision the path to a 2 seed, one that may not even require an SEC Tournament title.

That’s all hypothetical, which we’ll entertain in a bit. For now, Tennessee ranks 11th on the Bracket Matrix seed list. One person requested a seed list that was just the top 10 bracketologists on the Matrix (I’m refusing to use BM for obvious reasons); that has Tennessee as the 10th overall seed, barely a hair behind Purdue for 9th overall. The teams Tennessee has to pass to get a 2 seed, at least from the general consensus, are Purdue (9th) and Villanova (8th). (This is where I note that I am not understanding why Duke is 7th on the seed list.) Wisconsin (11th) and Texas Tech (12th) are also in that mix, but both posted worse losses this weekend alone than anything Tennessee’s done this year.

How does the SEC Tournament affect this?

We’ll cover a variety of different scenarios here:

  • Tennessee goes 0-1 against either Mississippi State or South Carolina, both of which would be Quadrant 2 losses
  • Tennessee goes 1-1 and loses to Kentucky
  • Tennessee goes 1-1 and loses to Alabama
  • Tennessee goes 2-1 and loses to Auburn/Arkansas
  • Tennessee wins the SEC Tournament

Might as well get the worst possible outcome out of the way first.

1. Tennessee goes 0-1, losing to either Mississippi State or South Carolina

Expected impact: Drop of 2 spots on seed curve, per Torvik; 0.6 drop in Average Seed, per INCC Stats
Seed range: 10th-13th overall; 3-4 seed

This, obviously, is the worst scenario. Tennessee posts their first Quadrant 2 loss of the season as the worst possible time, ruining their status as one of just eight teams with zero Q2-Q4 losses. Maybe State jumps into the top 50 as a result, but considering they would likely get plowed by Kentucky immediately after, I doubt it.

The net impact of this one is pretty intriguing, though. Torvik (who is not a bracketologist, just a stats guy) has Tennessee 8th on his site’s seed list right now, so his simulation places a loss to MSU as only costing Tennessee two spots on the seed curve. It even might be preferable to actually being 8th and having to draw Gonzaga as your 1. Even so, that seems rosy, and it’s probably a situation that has Tennessee closer to 12th or even 13th overall.

2. Tennessee goes 1-1, losing to Kentucky

Expected impact: …nothing. Zero change on seed curve, per Torvik; zero change in Average Seed, per INCC Stats
Seed range: 8th-12th overall; 2-3 seed

This is the status quo. The path to a 2 seed would be very dependent on everyone else. Auburn is likely locked in at no worse than a 2; same for Kansas and Kentucky. That leaves two 2 seed spots open for six or so teams. At that point, Tennessee is rooting for at least four of Duke, Wisconsin, Villanova, Purdue, and Texas Tech to fail to improve their resume in some meaningful fashion. The problem is that you become even more dependent on the teams likely ahead of you (the first three) to all really blow it. Duke would have to fail to win an ACC Tournament game; Wisconsin probably would, too. Villanova…maybe 1-1, with that one being a bad loss? Not sure.

Either way, pretty hard to go 1-1, lose to an agreed-upon top five team, and drop below the 3 line. If anything, this probably just solidifies Tennessee’s status as a 3 seed.

3. Tennessee goes 1-1, losing to Alabama

Expected impact: …also nothing. Zero change on seed curve, per Torvik; -0.1 change in Average Seed, per INCC Stats
Seed range: 8th-12th overall; 2-3 seed

This is the same scenario as above, just more annoying because it’s Nate Oats and you’re losing to the wonder boy that directed his team to an SEC Tournament 6 seed. I know we’re including the 8th overall seed (the last 2) as a possibility here but it would feel pretty frail. If you lose to Kentucky by three points or something nobody will care; if you lose to Alabama by three points, it’s a lot less impressive. This would be a 3 seed.

4. Tennessee goes 2-1 and loses to Auburn/Arkansas

Expected impact: +2 change on seed curve, per Torvik; +0.2 change in Average Seed, per INCC Stats
Seed range: 7th-10th overall; 2-3 seed

At this point, you’re really on the line. Even in a scenario where Tennessee is beating Alabama on the way to the title game, that’s an additional Quadrant 1 win at a neutral site, and Alabama would be the highest NET team Tennessee’s beaten away from home. If it’s Kentucky, well, even better.

By process of elimination, one of Wisconsin/Purdue (potentially, both) will fail to win the Big Ten. Texas Tech is third-best in odds to win the Big 12. Duke plays in the worst Big Six conference and lost the same number of conference games as Tennessee. Even if Villanova were to win the Big East, you’re staring down a scenario where Tennessee could very well be no worse than 10th overall, could easily be no worse than 9th, and could potentially slip in as the final 2 seed depending on other outcomes. Not bad.

5. Tennessee wins the SEC Tournament.

Expected impact: 404 file not found
Seed range: 5th-9th overall; 2-3 seed

I mean it has been 43 years, after all. But in the unlikely event Tennessee finally does the thing we have been begging them to for eleven Presidential administrations, the following things will happen in turn:

  1. I will hoot and holler;
  2. Tennessee will be a 2 seed, unless…

So: 5th may even be a little aggressive. I reached out to the guy that runs Delphi Bracketology, and he indicated that it would be very unlikely for anyone below Kentucky (6th overall) to grab that final 1 seed. I would agree with him. Those top six seeds may even be fully locked in, and Kentucky may be unable to fall to 7th or lower.

That said…this would be a Tennessee team with 10 Quadrant 1 wins, zero Q2-Q4 losses, and at least one win over one of the two SEC teams in contention for a 1 seed. It wouldn’t really matter what anyone else would do. Tennessee would pass Duke with relative ease, and we already covered that one of Wisconsin/Purdue will eliminate themselves from 2 seed competition. At that point, as long as neither Wisconsin/Purdue win the Big Ten (again, the most likely scenario) you should be fine. 2 seed, just root for not getting Gonzaga as the 1.

Who do you think Tennessee is most likely to draw?

Well, because I am the protagonist of history and everything is specifically designed to harm me, not you, Tennessee will be drawing the First Four winner of Michigan/Memphis in the Round of 32.

More specifically, there aren’t that many updates from last time. The committee rules state that the top four teams (in seed lines 1-4) from a conference cannot be in the same bracket, meaning Tennessee won’t see any of Auburn/Kentucky/Arkansas until a hypothetical Final Four appearance. You can eliminate them from any bracket designs. Beyond that, Tennessee will have nine potential opponents among their 1-4 seeds: three for each seed line, excluding the one Tennessee is on.

Right now, per the consensus, these are the teams Tennessee is technically allowed to be paired with by seed line. Included are the 3 seeds in the event that Tennessee is not a three:

  • 1 seeds: Gonzaga (WCC), Baylor (B12), Arizona (P12)
  • 2 seeds: Kansas (B12), Duke (ACC), Villanova (BE)
  • 3 seeds: Wisconsin (B1G), Purdue (B1G), Texas Tech (B12)
  • 4 seeds: Providence (BE), UCLA (P12), Illinois (B1G), Arkansas (SEC)

Considering the next team up on the seed list is currently Houston, a team that just got pantsed by Memphis, I feel it’s reasonable to state that no fewer than 12 of those 13 teams will be among the top 16 on Sunday. So: you can feel pretty confident in who you’re looking at here.

Beyond that, you have to consider the other conferences, too. We know that the SEC teams cannot be paired together. Who must the 1 and 2 seeds avoid?

  • Gonzaga: none, unless you don’t want them to play previous opponents Duke or UCLA again
  • Baylor: Kansas (2 seed), Texas Tech (3 seed), and probably Texas (5 seed)
  • Arizona: UCLA (4 seed)
  • Kansas: same as Baylor
  • Duke: just other ACC teams, but the committee may want to avoid Gonzaga and Kentucky rematches
  • Villanova: Providence (4 seed), Connecticut (5 seed)

Attempting to figure out how the committee would actually order these teams is a struggle. My guess is that if Baylor wins it’ll be hard to keep them out of the overall 1 seed, but any other scenario results in Gonzaga as the 1. For the purposes of our simulation (of a sort), we’re going with the following seed order based on top bracketologists:

  • 1 seeds: Gonzaga, Baylor, Arizona, Auburn
  • 2 seeds: Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Villanova
  • 3 seeds: Purdue, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Texas Tech
  • 4 seeds: Illinois, UCLA, Providence, Arkansas

Along with this, I’m indulging a specific and silly part of the equation: seed list rankings. Technically, Tennessee would be #10 on this list. Duke would be #7, Auburn #4, so on. The goal, in theory, is to create a bracket that totals 34 from these rankings: 1 vs. 8, 9 vs. 16. The problem is that when conferences get involved, it gets pretty difficult to actually do that. This is the most even seed line ranking I could produce:

West Region (34)

  1. Gonzaga (1)
  2. Villanova (8)
  3. Purdue (9)
  4. Arkansas (16)

South Region (34)

  1. Baylor (2)
  2. Duke (7)
  3. Tennessee (10)
  4. Providence (15)

Midwest (lol) Region (34)

  1. Arizona (3)
  2. Kentucky (6)
  3. Texas Tech (12)
  4. Illinois (13)

East Region (34)

  1. Auburn (4)
  2. Kansas (5)
  3. Wisconsin (11)
  4. UCLA (14)

See how it gets jumbled on the final two regions? Because of the prominence of the SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten on the top seed lines, it becomes pretty hard to just slate these teams in an easy order. Still, this is a way of getting to 34 per region. Also, while we’re on this subject, Duke has technically requested to be in the Midwest Region, but that request only works if you’re a 1 seed, which is…unlikely. (Don’t doubt the selection committee to somehow find a way to indulge this, though.)

To answer the original question here, it’s just very dependent on results. Tennessee is technically equally likely to draw any of the nine teams they’re allowed to draw, but depending on where Tennessee falls on the seed curve, they’ll be much more likely to grab one versus another. For instance, if Tennessee does end up 10th in the committee rankings, it’s more likely that they are paired with the 2nd overall seed (Baylor as of now), assuming that there are no conflicts with the 2 or 4 seed. Likewise, Tennessee would be less likely to draw the worst 4 seed (16th overall) unless it’s not possible to fit the bracket evenly otherwise.

Who does Tennessee want to be paired with most and least at each seed line?

This is a modified version of the GOAT/Poop Draw that I’ve done the last few seasons for Tennessee. Instead of building a full region out, though, it seems more useful just to give you a general overview of who’s hot and who’s not at each seed line. (Plus, the last time I did the draws, a guy got very mad at me for the concept of them in the first place. Happy Tuesday, guy!) This is ordered from 1 to 16, just like the real thing. WARNING: because of the nature of one-bid leagues, about half of which see a conference tournament upset of the 1 seed, it will get very wobbly towards the end. Stay with me.

For the purposes of this exercise, we’re sticking with the teams currently slotted to be at those seed lines, per the Matrix consensus.

  • 1 seeds: I mean, as long as you don’t draw Gonzaga (#1 overall by 5.3 points in KenPom), it’s probably agreeable. Whether you trust the metrics is besides the point; I simply think that Tennessee does not have enough roster options in the post-Nkamhoua era to contain both Timme and Holmgren for a full 40. Everyone else is at least rational. If you read into late-season performance, Arizona (#2) has played like the 11th-best team over the last 10 games, and Tennessee is technically allowed to play them again. Not great for a 1 seed. Other than that, uh…Baylor?
    • Also: this is kind of a bad batch for 1 seeds, with three currently sitting at +28 AdjEM or lower. While someone has to make it to the Final Four, the last year where at least three of the four 1s entered at +28 or lower in KenPom was 2014, a year when Florida was the only 1 seed to make the Final Four. Before that: 2006, when no 1 seed made it.
  • 2 seeds: The good news is that, by way of being in the SEC, you cannot draw Kentucky (#3), who is likely to be the highest-ranked 2 seed by some distance. The worst team you can technically draw is Duke (#6), who did just lose at home to a team Tennessee beat by nearly 20. Pardon me if I am more than a little worried at the whistle Coach K, who demands to be feted at every turn, will receive in March. Beyond that, your current options are either Kansas (#9) or Villanova (#10). If Tennessee ends up a 3, hope that Wisconsin (#30) won the Big Ten.
    • Speaking of which: On Wisconsin! Yes, seriously. Over the last 20 years, 17 3 and 4 seeds that ranked outside of the KenPom Top 25 have made it to March. Zero have made it beyond the Sweet Sixteen, and only two have made it to the Sweet Sixteen. You want Wisconsin in your bracket. Promise.
  • 3 seeds: I think I speak for everyone when I say no one wants a Tennessee/Texas Tech (#11) rematch. The other options here are Purdue (#13) and Wisconsin (previously covered, #30), both of whom would be reasonable.
    • Purdue is on pace to enter the Tournament with the nation’s #105 ranked defense. The sample size of teams with sub-100 defenses is predictably low, so I’ve extended it to teams with defenses ranked 90th or worse. This is still just a nine-team sample size, but of nine 1-4 seeds with a sub-90th defense, only one of those teams (2015 Notre Dame) made it beyond the Sweet Sixteen. Five went out by the Round of 32.
  • 4 seeds: I don’t know that any of these are like…truly wretched? But if you’re somehow a 1 seed you don’t really want UCLA (#8, #11 NET) in your bracket. Feels like they’re on a collision course with whoever the last 1 seed is, though. (They can’t draw Arizona, and their resume actually ranks second-strongest among the current four 4 seeds). Illinois (#18) is very hot and cold. If you’re Tennessee and, for some reason, you want your 1 seed to stay intact, root for Providence (#36), who will be the lowest-rated 4 seed since 2011 Vanderbilt (#37; lost in Round of 64) if everything holds.
  • 5 seeds: I know that your most recent impression of Houston (#5!) is that they got blown out by Memphis and that they’re down two starters, but think of it this way: they’ve been down two starters since January 2. Since that time, Bart Torvik’s site ranks them as the fourth-best team in America. It speaks to how good a coach Kelvin Sampson is that this is the case. If anything, as long you’re not a 1 or a 4, you badly want Houston as your 5 seed. Anyway, the other 5 seeds, as constructed, are all pretty dangerous: Texas (#15), Saint Mary’s (CA) (#16), and Connecticut (#20) all have at least one win over a Top 10 team.
    • The concept of all four 5 seeds being…well, 5 seeds (20th or better) would actually be somewhat novel. It’s only happened twice before: 2018 and 2005. In those years, 5 seeds went a combined 7-1 in the Round of 64, produced five Sweet Sixteen teams, and two Final Four teams. That may or may not happen this year, but now you know.
  • 6 seeds: Considering Tennessee’s likely status as a 3 seed, know that you only have two options here, as the other two are Alabama and LSU. Tennessee would not want to draw Iowa (#14), who is kind of bad defensively but top 5 on offense and has All-American Keegan Murray on their team. Tennessee would want to draw Ohio State (#26), a team that feels pretty collapse-ready. Ohio State actually rose to 17th before losing by 13 at home to Iowa on February 19, a loss that kick-started a terrible stretch where they’ve gone 3-4 and lost to Michigan and Nebraska at home.
    • A fun OSU fact: their two closest statistical comps are 2009 California (a 7 seed that got stomped in the Round of 64) and 2011 Arizona (a 5 seed who came a point short of the Final Four). Who knows!
  • 7 seeds: Fraught territory for 2 seeds this year, potentially. No one wants to draw Murray State (#25), a team that has lost once since Thanksgiving (to Auburn) and is scalding-hot. Colorado State (#33) is less metrics-impressive but has several good wins. Meanwhile, USC (#40) has a very thin resume for 25-6 and has fallen off defensively.
  • 8/9 seeds: Again, given Tennessee’s positioning and the general fluidity of these seeds, you probably want the 1 seed to have the toughest possible draw. In that case, you’re hoping your 1 seed has to beat either San Francisco (#21) or San Diego State (#23) to make the Sweet Sixteen. You could also hope for Boise State (#27), another Western team that’s flown well under the radar. A bad draw here would be Michigan State (#43), who is coached by Tom Izzo but has played horrendous basketball for the last six weeks.
  • 10 seeds: If you’re a 2, you don’t want Wake Forest (#34), who is the only 10 seed currently inside the top 40 on KenPom. Everyone else is whatever. Worst offender is Creighton (#70), who ranks a spot below Chattanooga, a team that will be either a 12 or 13 seed.
  • 11 seeds: This is where it gets hairy. 6 seeds are 19-21 versus 11 seeds since the First Four became a thing. I can’t imagine that’s much of a surprise. The 11 seed line has generally turned into the best teams from one-bid leagues + the best messy teams from high-majors. The 6 seed that has to play either Memphis (#28) or Michigan (#31) will be dreading it immensely, as will the corresponding 3 seed that has to play the equivalent of a 7-8 seed. The other 11 seeds are frankly not scary, unless…
  • 12 seeds: Loyola Chicago (#24), just like COVID-19, will never go away fully. I think they probably end up an 11 seed, which is why I’m discussing them immediately…but as of the time of writing, they were the highest-rated 12 seed. You don’t want to play them. The 12 seed you would want is Rutgers (#73), who would be a First Four winner. Also not that into the idea of playing North Texas (#48) if I’m a 5.
  • 13 seeds: WARNING! From here on out, it’s sketchy territory at best; none of the teams mentioned will, at the time of publishing, have won their conference. Anyway, the best 13 seeds this year are all helpfully ranked right next to each other: Vermont (#66) and Towson (#67). Furman (#74) is also close, though by the time you read this they may have lost the SoCon title game. The safest option for 4 seeds this year would be a hypothetical matchup with Princeton (#105).
  • 14 seeds: The good news for 3 seeds: as of now, there shouldn’t be any truly scary 14 seeds. Last year, three 14 seeds entered the Tournament in the KenPom top 100, which was pretty unusual. This year, we might have one, and that’s only if very few conference tournament upsets happen or if New Mexico State (#87) gets underseeded somehow. Other than that, the options are teams like Wagner (#127) or Montana State (#142).
  • 15 seeds: It’s not 100% going to happen, but there’s a potential scenario where multiple teams on the 15 line are rated higher by KenPom than anyone on the 14. Colgate (#125), for instance, is currently tracking for a 15. Similarly, Jacksonville State (#141) could be a little plucky if they can find their way into the field. The 15 seed that went to the Sweet Sixteen last year entered the Tournament 151st, and FGCU entered the 2012-13 dance 124th. Anything can happen, but somewhere around 150th is probably the rough barrier.
  • 16 seeds: It feels pointless trying to project these because they never end up with the teams they start with, but Norfolk State (#165) is actually a little spicy. Considering the average 16 seed enters the NCAA Tournament around 205th-210th, gotta take what you can get.

Where will Tennessee be headed for the first two rounds?

I’ll repost the chart I did last time.

Teams Within 500 Miles of a Site, Per a Website My Brother Sent Me

  • Buffalo, NY (Thu/Sat): Kentucky (440 miles), Purdue (447), Duke (476), Villanova (280), Providence (388), Connecticut (193), Ohio State (290)
  • Fort Worth, TX (Thu/Sat): Kansas (445), Baylor (83), Texas Tech (269), Houston (236), Texas (174), Arkansas (292)
  • Indianapolis, IN (Thu/Sat): Kansas (488), Auburn (496), Kentucky (148), Purdue (62), Duke (474), Tennessee (290), Wisconsin (286), Illinois (113), Ohio State (168), Alabama (435)
  • Portland, OR (Thu/Sat): Gonzaga (294)
  • Greenville, SC (Fri/Sun): Auburn (235), Kentucky (251), Purdue (459), Duke (213), Tennessee (115), Ohio State (355), Alabama (271)
  • Milwaukee, WI (Fri/Sun): Kansas (474), Kentucky (386), Purdue (186), Wisconsin (76), Illinois (203), Ohio State (327)
  • Pittsburgh, PA (Fri/Sun): Kentucky (289), Purdue (364), Duke (330), Villanova (256), Tennessee (376), Illinois (435), Providence (457), Connecticut (236), Ohio State (161)
  • San Diego, CA (Fri/Sun): Arizona (361), UCLA (112), USC (112), Saint Mary’s (CA) (451)

I imagine the selection committee doesn’t have an exact-mile point-to-point chart in the room on Selection Sunday, but they probably have a general idea of which teams prefer which locations based on proximity. It matters, otherwise they’d put Kansas in San Diego or whatever.

Anyway, this is how I think each location shakes out as of now, based on the current top 16. All of these are assigned in order, based on closest available location.

  • Buffalo: Providence, Arkansas
  • Fort Worth: Baylor, Kansas
  • Indianapolis: Kentucky, Purdue
  • Portland: Gonzaga, UCLA
  • Greenville: Auburn, Duke
  • Milwaukee: Wisconsin, Illinois
  • Pittsburgh: Villanova, Tennessee
  • San Diego: Arizona, Texas Tech

Some brief comments:

  • Buffalo could shift based on if Villanova wants that over Pittsburgh, but considering the latter is a shorter drive by about 1:15, I doubt it. However, the committee could make an executive call here. Arkansas fans are rabid, but how many are willing to travel on Buffalo on short notice?
  • Fort Worth is locked in.
  • Indianapolis is probably locked in. The only thing that could change is if Purdue falls behind Tennessee in seeding order or if they pick Milwaukee instead.
  • Portland is half locked-in with Gonzaga. UCLA obviously makes more sense in San Diego, but I made an executive decision to send Tech to its closest remaining location as they’re ahead in the pecking order.
  • Greenville is locked in unless Duke falls beneath Tennessee/decides they’d rather play in Pittsburgh for some reason. Considering Greenville is a four-hour shorter drive, it would be weird to elect to go elsewhere.
  • Milwaukee is locked in unless Illinois falls to the 5 line or Purdue wants to play there instead.
  • Pittsburgh is fluid. Villanova would prefer this over Buffalo, but refer to the Buffalo notes for the issues there. Tennessee would prefer both Greenville and Indianapolis, but both may fill up by the time Tennessee is slotted somewhere. If Tennessee goes to Indianapolis instead, Pittsburgh probably becomes a landing spot for a helpless 4 seed…like Arkansas!
  • San Diego is half-locked in with Arizona. Texas Tech is somewhat close to a lock because I can’t figure out where else you’d send them.

How does the mess you typed out affect Tennessee?

…seems like you should be looking at Pittsburgh hotels or AirBNBs? Maybe? I’d give the percentages as such:

  1. Pittsburgh (55%)
  2. Indianapolis (20%)
  3. Greenville (20%)
  4. Randomizer (5%)

Complain about the odds if you want, but Indianapolis simply seems more realistic because I can envision Tennessee moving ahead of Purdue more than I can them moving ahead of Duke. I do not agree with that being the case – frankly Purdue’s resume is significantly better than Duke’s – but it appears to be the case. Worth noting that ~77% of the odds here correspond to a Friday/Sunday site.

Can you repost the thing about how Tennessee only plays day games in March?

Sure. From last time, here’s Tennessee’s tip times since the field expanded to 68:

  • 4:30 PM ET (2021)
  • 3 PM ET (2019)
  • 12:40 PM ET (2018)
  • 2:45 PM ET (2014)
  • 12:40 PM ET (2011)

That’s five consecutive daytime tips in a row. A fair(ish) Selection Committee and TV crew would give Tennessee an evening slot, but they could’ve done that after three or four in a row, too. My recommendation is to not be surprised by anything that happens.

Anything else?

If there’s more I’ll just Tweet it out, because 4,200+ words is enough. I think there’s a compelling case to be made for Tennessee as having a better resume than the counterparts they share the 3 seed line with, but if I’m going to make it I would prefer for it to not sound fanboy-ish. Thanks for reading; more to come.

I’ve Been Here Before, Looking at the Wild Country

March 1: #13 Tennessee 75, Georgia 68 (22-7, 13-4 SEC)
March 5: #13 Tennessee 78, #14 Arkansas 74 (23-7, 14-4 SEC)

“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”

You think about a date long enough and it becomes etched in your memory: March 7, 2020. That was the date of the last college basketball game I had attended for nearly 20 months. My favorite jacket that I own is a green overcoat with fake fur on the hood. Because I – we – live in East Tennessee, the amount of time this jacket gets pulled out of the closet is maybe eight times a year. I wear it for fun sometimes even when it’s 42 degrees, just because it’s a comfy jacket. The first time I put it on in December 2020, the day before Tennessee was to play its fourth basketball game of that season, I discovered something I’d left behind from the Before Times: a ticket from the February 8, 2020 game against Kentucky, the most recent ticket purchase I had made.

A year-plus of surreal events touching your screen. Two years of a pandemic. What feels like a lifetime without something that feels vaguely normal. Even getting back to the arena this season felt a little abnormal at first. I couldn’t attend the Arizona game due to Christmas obligations. All of the games I attended through most of the first three months were far from sellouts. Part of this was due to opponent quality; part of it was due to a slightly-underwhelming win-loss record; part of it, of course, could be COVID-related.

The Vol Pass is sold through the university for $150. Considering what you get – access to all 16 home games, including what ended up being four games against Top 15 opponents – it is one of the last respites of reasonable ticketing that exists in our nation. Attendance is plummeting everywhere you look. College football reported its seventh-consecutive drop in attendance. Dennis Dodd locked the replies on his Tweet about it because people correctly said “it’s the money!” The NBA and NHL are having a hard time bringing fans back. About the only thing that’s going up right now across the board is English football, famous bastion of normal fandom (which I adore).

A post I look at frequently because it feels like it sums up everything is a strange oddity from Lawyers, Guns, and Money: a post about Michigan football’s average ticket price from 1900 to 2000, adjusted for inflation. Why it exists, I’m not sure, but it’s useful.

The average ticket price at Michigan Stadium in the first post-COVID season – a season where even Michigan lifers didn’t actually believe in them as a Playoff team until 42-27 had finalized – was $146, per SeatGeek. That number hasn’t touched double digits since 2014, a season where they were trying to fire anybody they could. Tennessee football has to fill 102,455 seats, an insane amount for a team with a 40% conference win rate at home in the last decade. Average ticket price during that time: $93.

Tennessee basketball fell from 4th to 5th this season in average game-by-game attendance. It was frankly understandable. Until January 22, Tennessee had played four games against teams ranked 200th or worse in KenPom at Thompson-Boling Arena; they’d had just one opponent (Arizona) rank higher than 78th. That Arizona crowd was pretty excellent despite a lack of students in attendance, but that felt like a fluke more than the norm. Even the LSU crowd on January 22 sounded somewhat subdued on air.

The Florida game four days later was one of the most poorly-planned sporting events I have ever attended. We left our house, which is normally a 20-minute drive from the arena, at 4:57 PM; we parked at 6:07 and got into the arena at 6:19. Whatever ESPN person is responsible for this is a miserable cretin. All of this is beside the point: in the second half of a must-win home game, the crowd got as loud as I could remember hearing it since the moment Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield left campus. It proved crucial in a victory.

Three weeks later, Tennessee drew the #3 team in America to town for a 9 PM tipoff. A similar story unfolded: the opposing team started hot. Then, a sellout crowd with the lowest percentage of blue I have seen since I started attending Tennessee basketball games turned things around.

11 days later, after the longest week of my life, Auburn came to town. This was the Auburn team that spent weeks at #1, the same team that kept telling the analytics to shove it. All Auburn did was win close ones. All Auburn did, for years, was spin Tennessee into a tizzy. Rick Barnes, for all of his positives and general ownership of John Calipari, could never beat Bruce Pearl. Down 39-28, it felt unreasonable to ask for it. The crowd delivered. The students Swag Surfed. The floor was fed.

Tennessee, through all of this, kept bringing people back. Everyone who jumped off the bandwagon in January wanted back on in March. The story was similar for Arkansas, a team that started 0-3 in SEC play then rattled off a 13-in-14 stretch to be in a position where, with a win and an Auburn loss, they’d be the SEC’s 1 seed for the conference tournament. The crowd was asked, for the first time in a while, to checker Thompson-Boling Arena. The crowd delivered.

Then they delivered again, and again, and again, and again, and again.

Tennessee was a perfect 16-0 at home this year. The other members of the SEC’s top four went a combined 53-1. Across all of college basketball, per KenPom, the home-court win rate this year held steady with 2020-21 at 57.5%. That roughly equates to a two or 2.5-point edge, which is all of one basket. If a crowd is responsible for an extra couple of points, that’s useful enough. Ken’s site doesn’t give any one program a home-court advantage of more than 4.8 points, which belongs to Texas Tech.

But maybe, just maybe, a group of 21,678 people can look at statistics that have held up for years, decades even, and say “we are bigger.” This group rallied behind a team in need all season and delivered. This group of fans, and many thousands more, rallied around Tennessee’s most beloved player in a time of need and delivered. Every time Tennessee asked for more, the fans came through. Every time they were asked to do anything at all, they did it. Every time the in-arena DJ begged older fans to get out of their seats at a critical time of the game, they did it. It was all they could do to help. It’s all they know how to do: help.

There are a lot of things to slow down and consider as the season ends. Many of them revolve around the team itself, the most resilient group with the most lovable player Tennessee has produced in some time. A team that kept delivering monster home wins left and right is certainly something you’ll remember for a long time. But what stands out more than anything is the money.

I spent $150 (well, $300 for two) on the Vol Pass this year. What a bargain, man. I got to see 10 of the games, all wins. Tennessee played #4, #3, and #14 in a three-week span and beat them all, leading over half of those 120 minutes by double-digits. So many points were scored. So many turnovers were forced. So many bench celebrations were seen. So many good things, which really did end up outweighing the bad, were observed about the on-court product.

Greater than any of that is how many different fans I saw. I went into this season seeking the normalcy of basketball; what I actually found felt more impactful and meaningful. We never sat by the same people twice, unless you count the now-famous band member who performs advanced art to “Enter Sandman”. We sat in nine different sections, both lower and upper deck. Some people we sat by were…less than wonderful, but on the whole, they were fine people. The uniting thing was that they were all involved. All of them were there for the game. Not for the bets; not for a social media post; not even for March, necessarily. For the basketball. For the feeling of being in an arena again. For community, for fandom, for high-fives, for joy.

It was all there, and I saw it. You’ll never take it from me, not from this brain. Not when I needed it most. They delivered, and they delivered some more. I’ll miss it.

HELLO. This is the notes section. I know we haven’t done this in a minute, but it’s a good time to bring it back.

  • Bracket Watch. There will be a full post about it on…Tuesday? Maybe? But rest assured, I am Monitoring™ the situation. As of the time of writing (Sunday, 9:38 PM ET), Tennessee is 11th overall in the Bracket Matrix consensus, AKA the third 3 seed. I’ve noticed some of the top bracketology people having them 9th or 10th. We’ll see what bears out.
  • We must become the pitiless censors of ourselves officials. I mean come on man. The Arkansas game tipped off at 12:02 PM ET, and while game script played some importance in this being a thing, no college basketball game that ends in regulation should take a full 2:30 to wrap. We’re looking at a situation where you’re not leaving campus until, like, 3:15 PM ET…and that’s before you have your actual drive home. What are we doing here? Enough of the fouls, enough of the reviews.
  • Which brings me to the Coach’s Challenge. College basketball should institute this within the next five years. As Jon Reed pointed out to me yesterday it’s improved the final minutes of NBA games immensely. Each coach/team gets one challenge. Think that’s not enough? Think of watching an official review a play for five minutes then keeping the call on the court.
  • A night for double-big lineups. I have hated on these previously, but they worked against Arkansas. Tennessee was outscored by 4 when using single-big lineups; they outscored Arkansas by 8 with multiple bigs on the court. Part of this was due to Tennessee’s foul issues but Tennessee also had a heck of a time getting decent looks from two.
  • On Georgia. Tennessee sleep-walked for a while, hit the gas, went up by 15, turned off the car, then idled home to survive. None of what happened in this game had any real factor for Arkansas. It’s like playing Missouri in football: it happens, you remember nothing other than a cool play or two.
  • The new rotation post-Nkamhoua. It breaks down as such, per KenPom. Tennessee has shrunk itself to a nine-man rotation but I imagine most didn’t figure Powell to be mostly out of it:

PG: Chandler 31 MPG/Zeigler 9
SG: Zeigler 17/Vescovi 16/Bailey 6
SF: Vescovi 17/James 15/Powell 4/Bailey 4
PF: James 16/Fulkerson 12/Huntley-Hatfield 12
C: Aidoo 14/Plavsic 14/Fulkerson 6/Huntley-Hatfield 6

Thanks for reading along this year. More posts to come.

Show Me My Opponent, 2021-22: Arkansas (II)

OPPONENT #14 Arkansas
24-6, 13-4 SEC, #19 KenPom
25-7, 13-4 SEC, Elite Eight 2020-21
LOCATION Thompson-Boling-Fulkerson Arena
Knoxville, TN
TIME Saturday, March 5
Jimmy Dykes (analyst)
SPREAD KenPom: Tennessee -7
Torvik: Tennessee -5.1

On January 15, Tennessee was 2-3 in SEC play and had just gotten smoked by their biggest rival by 28 points. The season felt pretty stupid. I was thinking about how nice it must be to have never created an account on Twitter. On January 15, Arkansas was also 2-3 in SEC play, and while they’d beaten LSU on the road, it was an Arkansas team that had just lost five of six with the only win being over KenPom #244 Elon. They were…not exactly on track to make the NCAA Tournament.

Fast-forward seven weeks. Tennessee and Arkansas are both 13-4. Tennessee’s only loss is to top-20 Arkansas on the road; Arkansas’s only loss is to top-25ish Alabama on the road. Both have beaten Kentucky and Auburn, the conference’s two best (per KenPom) teams, at home. Both have lovable players. Both have grown to adore their flawed, frenetic, defensively-dominant basketball teams. The winner of this game is guaranteed no worse than the 2 seed in the SEC Tournament, and with just one (admittedly very unlikely) Auburn loss, the winner would be the 1 seed.

Look at us. Who would’ve thought? Not me.

Arkansas offense

The nice thing about Tennessee having played this team all of two weeks ago is that, largely, I have already written everything I felt was worth researching on the offense. Plus, the amount of free time I have to work on these at the moment is…very small. If you missed the first game’s preview, here’s the link. Here’s what’s changed about Arkansas in two weeks:

  • Remember when I mentioned they were the 108th-best offense nationally from January 12th onward? They’re better now – Torvik has them as the 55th-best offense over the last ten games – but all of the same shooting concerns still exist. Razorbacks over last 10: 47% on twos, 33% from deep, one spot ahead of A&M in offensive efficiency. When you’re being mentioned alongside A&M in an offensive sentence, that’s a bad thing.
  • Torvik has a sort of Points Above Replacement stat called PORPAGATU! I reference every time in the Starters + Rotations section. #1 on the team over the last month has been Stanley Umude (11.6 PPG/4.7 RPG season-long), who is 24-for-55 on threes since February commenced. Guard him.
  • J.D. Notae (18.8 PPG/4.4 RPG/3.6 APG)’s usage has actually increased to nearly 30% of all Arkansas possessions in February. The same Chaotic Good about him exists – 62.5% at the rim on the season, 37% on threes in February, quality passer – while all of the same Just Plain Chaotic stuff is becoming quite visible (42% on twos in February, fouled out against Tennessee).
  • Jaylin Williams (10.9 PPG/9.7 RPG) has taken more charges than anyone else in America, so, uh, hope you get some good home officiating? Anyway, this is an offensive section, and Williams has become the clear #2 option offensively. Since February 1: 15 PPG on a 48.5% eFG%, which undersells the impact somewhat. Williams draws a bunch of fouls and is crazy good at midrange twos (18-for-32 in February) but crazy bad at threes (19% in February, 26% for his career). I would let him shoot, but strangely, I would not let him shoot the 15-footers.
  • Davonte Davis (7.6 PPG in Feb) and Au’Diese Toney (8.7 PPG in Feb) are the only other 4+ PPG scorers over the last month. Davis remains a curious case: terrific at the rim, below-average at shooting despite a recent hot streak. I’ve noticed he commits frustration fouls when things don’t go well. Toney, meanwhile, is 1-for-15 since February 1 on everything that isn’t a layup or dunk.
  • Only other guys that get real minutes are Chris Lykes and Trey Wade. Lykes is a genuine Disaster Factory (h/t MGoBlog) and posted a 28% FG% last month while committing 4.7 fouls per 40. Wade is almost invisible offensively, but can shoot a little.


Arkansas defense

Similar to the offensive section, here’s the first game’s preview on the defense. Here’s what’s changed since then:

  • This is the #4 defense nationally over the last month, but I would caution this because of one specific thing: teams are shooting 26.7% from three against them in that span. That is…unsustainable. Tennessee got a lot of good looks from deep in the first game and just didn’t hit them. Considering Missouri (a true Disaster Factory of a program) made more threes than Tennessee, I am withholding judgment.
  • Still not blocking a ton of shots, but the general gist of “this defense forces a very bad shot quality from the average opponent” still holds. Opponents are taking about 29% of their shots from non-rim two-point territory and hitting just 30.8% of them.
  • An alarming thing right now, however, is that they’ve become very leaky on the defensive boards. Kentucky/LSU/Auburn are all really good on the boards, but to surrender 40% or worse DREB% to each of them is a bad sign. Jaylin Williams is playing 33-34 minutes a night right now because he’s very good, but also because Arkansas goes from an okay DREB team to a disaster (28.8% vs. 37.5%) when he leaves the court, per Hoop-Explorer.
  • The turnovers. Arkansas has forced almost a 20% TO% rate over their last ten, which is very good when you consider the competition. Notae obviously is a hound on defense, but Chris Lykes, all of 5’7″, is creating a ton of havoc. Only Tari Eason has a better per-minute steal rate in February among SEC players.
  • Catch-and-shoots from the first time out: still a potential flaw. Arkansas sits at an Actually Bad 49/51 Guarded/Unguarded rate.

How Tennessee matches up

I’m still fairly concerned about Tennessee’s inability to hit twos now that Olivier Nkamhoua is out of the lineup, and this may or may not be the game that gets you back on the right track. Still: you have to hit some twos eventually. 43% 2PT% over the last ten games is…brutal. The competition is what it is, but if you shoot 43% from two against a good opponent in March, you better have the threes to bail yourself out.

Tennessee is playing an opponent who is good at most things but very bad at two specific play types: basket cuts (14th-percentile) and hand-offs (15th-percentile). Tennessee is much more well-versed in the first of these, but in the first game, they got zero points from five cuts, per Synergy. That’s inexcusable; considering Arkansas got 12 on 13 cuts, that pretty much explains the scoring differential and the loss. If Tennessee wants to turn things around on Senior Day, Uros Plavsic and John Fulkerson have to finish at the rim. Alternately, the back-cut with Chandler has worked very well as of late. My thought is that if a team over-commits to stop Chandler, Fulkerson or someone’s going to be open inside. Be prepared for a variety of scenarios.

Hand-offs are a hair trickier, because Tennessee doesn’t run these as often; it’s roughly 3-4 times in the average game. The first time out, they ran five and went 0-4 FG on them. (Again, a potential reason for the poor offensive performance.) The general idea of all four shots were fine, and two of the threes were pretty open, but they didn’t go down. Santiago Vescovi has been the main recipient of hand-offs, but if you want a similar feature from a different set, just keep running the same off-ball sets you’ve ran for Vescovi (and others) all season.

Defensively: make Notae take jumpers, make…everyone take jumpers? That’s obviously a little reductive but this is a team that’s shooting well at the rim and shooting poorly everywhere else. When you’re 301st in 3PT% I’m probably gonna recommend you let them shoot the ball. The only guys you truly have to run off the line are Umude (who’s white-hot right now) and Notae if he gets a catch-and-shoot. Everyone else, whatever, beats Jaylin Williams running roughshod on you down low. I know Tennessee got hit on this a little by two random Davonte Davis (career 27% 3PT%) makes but still.

Some of this is also just intangible stuff: stay focused, don’t give up backdoor cuts, hope you win referee roulette. I’ve reached a minor point of season-long tranquility where I’m very pleased with how this season has unfolded no matter what, but, uh…just win, baby.

Starters + rotations

Metric explanations: Role is algorithmically-determined by Bart Torvik. MPG is minutes per game. PPG/RPG/APG/Fouls/Twos/Threes are what you’d guess. USG% is the percentage of possessions a player uses on the court. OREB%/DREB% are your available rebounds usurped. Finally, PRPG! is Bart Torvik’s Points Over Replacement metric; the higher the better. If you’re on mobile, zoom in; if on desktop, right click -> Open Image in New Tab.

Three things to watch for

  • Please make the threes. I mean flip literally two threes from the first game and it feels entirely different in that final minute. And that would’ve meant a 6-for-24 performance. If Tennessee can manage even 32-33% or better I think they’re in business.
  • Can Tennessee find a path to the rim? Arkansas forced 19 non-rim twos against 16 rim attempts in the first game. Part of this was influenced by insane officiating, sure, but Jaylin Williams is just that good. Gotta find some backdoor cuts and screens to open things up and keep the ball moving.
  • Senior Day John. Fulkerson put together one of his best performances of the 2020-21 season on his initial Senior Day last year. Does he do it again in his final TBA game? Even at 14 & 7 or so it’s a massive difference-maker.

Key matchups

J.D. Notae vs. Kennedy Chandler. Despite the insane foul calls I thought Chandler won this battle the first time out. (Notae obviously picked up 2-3 terrible calls, too.) The key this time is continuing to push the ball to the rim and, well, making open threes. Holding Notae to 15 or less again would be a win.

Jaylin Williams vs. Center Roulette. Again, Tennessee plays four different guys so whatever. Williams cannot be allowed to go for 13 & 16 again and draw six charges. Can you get a guy who’s at 3.8 fouls/40 for his career in foul trouble? If so: profit.

Stanley Umude vs. Josiah-Jordan James. These are two guys who are hot at the perfect time. James just got done having the best scoring performance of his career, while Umude is the one Arkansas player I’d be worried about for all 40 minutes from deep.

Three predictions

  1. Tennessee wins the foul battle (yes, seriously);
  2. Santiago Vescovi hits four threes;
  3. Tennessee 72, Arkansas 65.

Show Me My Opponent, 2021-22: Georgia

6-23, 1-15 SEC, #209 KenPom
14-12, 7-11 SEC 2020-21
LOCATION Stegeman Coliseum
Athens, GA
TIME Tuesday, March 1
6:30 PM ET
Dane Bradshaw (analyst)
SPREAD KenPom: Tennessee -16
Torvik: Tennessee -12.8

Before this post starts, I wanted to get it on this site that I’m sincerely thankful for everyone who’s reached out in the last week. I read all of your comments and tweets and they really helped me get through what was a pretty rough week. It is good to be back in a normal routine.

Also, it’s not like I was going to miss this one. Sometime in the summer, I went on Chase Thomas’s show and said that Georgia had the worst roster I had seen in the SEC in nearly a decade. I felt pretty good about that, but when Georgia beats Memphis and Alabama in the same season you start to wonder about it. Then again, that Georgia team comes in at 6-23, 1-15 SEC, and you simply realize you were right. For once.

Georgia’s offense

Genuinely, this part of the Tom Crean Experience isn’t bad. Georgia has a top 100 offense that gets a ton of shots blocked and turns it over 24/7, but they have better scorers than I would’ve guessed in preseason and have had the 9th-best offense among SEC teams in conference play. Not bad! Promise! Crean’s reputation rests on the fact that he has a huge offensive playbook, so I guess that’s nice.

There are three players you need to know: Kario Oquendo (15.3 PPG), Braelen Bridges (12.7 PPG), and Aaron Cook (10.1 PPG). First scorers first: Oquendo is a sophomore who’s been the biggest positive surprise on the roster. He plays 2-4 but spends most of his time at the 3. Whenever Oquendo learns to shoot, I think he could be a legitimate All-SEC contender under a better coach; he is 48-for-176 (27.3%) on everything that isn’t within four feet of the rim this year. But man, he is incredible at the rim: 30 dunks, 102-for-151 (67.5%) down low. Don’t let him get loose in transition.

Bridges is the center and is entirely not a threat on jumpers, as he’s attempted two this season. Instead, you have to deal with an array of post moves and work down low, as he’s Georgia’s most consistent threat at the rim in half-court offense. He’s hitting 81.8% of his shots at the rim on non-transition possessions, which is an insane rate that you would expect from, like, Giannis.

Cook will not get a GIF because this post needs to be short, but he was the eighth or so best player on Gonzaga’s runner-up team last year. Here, he’s been fine, but inefficient (91 ORtg) and a pretty middling 28% 3PT% shooter. Cook’s main feature is that he’s Georgia’s only true point guard, and when your point guard is a guy that would probably be Tennessee’s seventh or eighth man…well, it’s not great. He holds a 24% TO% and has a 43.5% eFG% on the season. Not quite Disaster Factory stuff, but because announcers have to find someone on this roster to praise, prepare yourself.

Only two other players average more than 5 PPG: Noah Baumann (8.5 PPG) and Jabri Abdur-Rahim (7.3 PPG). Baumann is the only consistent deep threat on this roster, a guy that’s 41% from deep on the season and 42.5% for his career. He’s absolutely worth running off the line, even if it means Georgia gets an open look at the rim. Abdur-Rahim barely played at Virginia last year and functions as the sixth man of sorts here. He’s the second best shooter (33.7% 3PT%) but is bizarrely awful at Other Twos, going 4-for-30 on the year. Jaxon Etter averages 5 PPG but shoots it not even four times a game.


Yes: “Be afraid.” 😬
Somewhat: “They can hit this but not very efficiently.” 🤔
No: “Either never attempts this shot or is atrocious at making it.” 🥳

Georgia’s defense

I think my public high school experience, even in rural Tennessee, was probably similar to most in two very specific ways: 1. Every high school has a few ‘bands’ that last a year or two; 2. These bands are largely terrible, but you know the people in them, so you root for them to succeed. Anyone who attempts to play music in a public setting, in some sense, deserves applause. It’s not easy to try. This being said, you can absolutely feel second-hand embarrassment for someone else being very, very bad at something.

This is how I feel watching Georgia attempting to play defense in a public setting.

358 teams play Division I college basketball. 358 teams attempt to stop other teams from scoring at the rim. Georgia ranks 358th in FG% allowed at the rim, the very worst mark in college basketball. It does not matter how hard your schedule is. It probably does not matter what year of a tenure your coach is in. Injuries matter, but not this level of matter. Top to bottom, this is the single most embarrassing defense the SEC has had in 20 years.

If you want it hammered in – and why not, I think I’ve earned this – here is a list of fun facts about this Georgia defense, which shares a campus with the greatest football defense of the last decade.

  • The 13th-best SEC defense has allowed 1.081 PPP in conference play. Georgia has allowed 1.178.
  • Georgia has held three opponents below 1 PPP this season. Three.
  • The last time Georgia held an opponent below 1 PPP was December 7 against Jacksonville.
  • Georgia has not held an opponent below 50% on twos since December 7.
  • Georgia is undefeated (4-0) in games where the opponent turns it over on 23% or more of possessions. Unfortunately for Georgia, they have played 25 other games.

I cannot identify a single positive individual defender on this defense. It would be genuinely depressing to score below 1.1 PPP; only four SEC teams have fallen below that mark. It’s to the point that the fact they don’t foul is entirely an afterthought. Opponents take a lot of threes, too, and Georgia doesn’t guard those well either (52/48 Guarded/Unguarded).

This is a bad roster. This is worse effort. I’d imagine this starts at the top, because their coach last oversaw a Top 100 KenPom defense when Obama was in office.

How Tennessee matches up

I mean, just go to the rim. This is overly simplistic, but whatever. You are playing the worst rim defense in the SEC, and possibly the worst rim defense in modern SEC history. I cannot believe a team would be this bad at it, but hey, do your thing. None of their guards can consistently stop a drive to the rim. None of their frontcourt guys can stop a basket cut. Shots are blocked by accident if at all. The best defender on the roster commits 3.8 fouls per 40. Just go to the rim, whether by Chandler or by cut.

The rim is the point. Everything else is secondary. Sure, Tennessee should hit some threes in this one, because Georgia gives up a lot of open ones. But the first priority has to be exploiting this atrocious rim defense, forcing them to pack the paint, and then shooting over the top of them with ease. If Tennessee plays this correctly, they should score 80+ with little sweat.

Defensively, it is also mostly about the rim, but in the sense that you can’t let Oquendo get loose in transition and you have to get the ball out of Bridges’ hands in the half-court. The worst-case scenario involves Georgia hitting a few more threes than expected, but it also means Bridges and/or Oquendo getting a lot of buckets in the paint. It happened to Memphis, it happened to Alabama, it could…well, maybe happen to Tennessee. But even so: just cut it off. If Tennessee slows this game down, the path to points for Georgia is hard to envision beyond an outlier shooting day.

This is a great game to continue doing all the little things Tennessee normally does well: shrink passing lanes, stuff the gaps, make Georgia take a lot of bad two-pointers, let everyone not named Baumann take threes. Tennessee has a very smart roster with lots of quality defenders on it. It would be nice to see them do what we’ve grown used to them doing.

Starters + rotations

Metric explanations: Role is algorithmically-determined by Bart Torvik. MPG is minutes per game. PPG/RPG/APG/Fouls/Twos/Threes are what you’d guess. USG% is the percentage of possessions a player uses on the court. OREB%/DREB% are your available rebounds usurped. Finally, PRPG! is Bart Torvik’s Points Over Replacement metric; the higher the better. If you’re on mobile, zoom in; if on desktop, right click -> Open Image in New Tab.

Three things to watch for

  • Focus. Does Tennessee come out looking ahead to Saturday’s Arkansas game? Does Tennessee build an early lead, then let Georgia back into it because they’re focusing on Arkansas? This goes for Georgia as well, whose head coach may get fired for cause. If Georgia goes down by 10, does that turn into 20 in a four-minute span?
  • Shootin’. Georgia has actually shot fairly well in SEC play; they’re the 5th-best 3PT% team at 34.4%. Tennessee enters at 35.7%, or second-best. If Tennessee outshoots Georgia from deep I am genuinely unsure of how or why this game would be within ~12 points in the final minutes.
  • How much of a blowout is turnover margin? This is #18 vs. #340 in turnover margin. Tennessee winning this stat by less than 6 would be kind of disappointing.

Key matchups

Kario Oquendo vs. Santiago Vescovi. The games where Georgia’s played above expectation have largely been ones where Oquendo goes for 25+, excluding the Alabama win. Just don’t let him go off. Also would be nice for Vescovi to generate some offense inside the 3PT line.

Braelen Bridges vs. Center Roulette. Bridges has been insane at the rim and is one of the few nice things Georgia has. It would be ideal to hold him to his average of 12 or less.

Three predictions

  1. Tennessee wins turnover margin by 7+;
  2. John Fulkerson is the game’s KenPom MVP;
  3. Tennessee 82, Georgia 67.

2021-22 Bracketology, Vol. 2: where Tennessee stands, remaining scenarios, and possible draws

Well, no introduction needed here: it’s all summed up in the title. This post serves as a summary of where Tennessee is, what they could do, where they could go, and everything in between. Let’s get rolling.

Where does Tennessee stand at this moment?

Pretty well, I’d say. Tennessee came in as the 11th team in the Bracket Matrix consensus on Sunday (February 27), which was when I wrote this. Their average seed is 3.16, right behind Villanova and right ahead of Wisconsin. Bart Torvik’s TourneyCast gives them an 98% chance of at least a 4 seed and an 83% shot at a 3 or higher. You could be in a far worse position.

At the time of writing, Tennessee was 7-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents and a combined 14-0 against everyone else. For an idea of how this ranks, only 11 teams have 7 or more Quadrant 1 wins this year, and nine of those (Iowa State/Alabama excluded) are projected as 3 seeds or better. Tennessee has 12 combined Q1+Q2 wins, which is among the 12 best. They’re one of just seven teams in America that has not lost to a Quadrant 2, 3, or 4 opponent. That’s a heck of a resume that screams 3 seed or better.

I would agree with the general Torvik/analytics thought that Tennessee’s most likely seed, barring anything unusual, is a 3. I would rank the likelihood of each seed line as such: 3 > 2 >>> 1 >> 4.

Where do various scenarios have Tennessee seeded?

I’m keeping these really simple. There are only two scenarios worth discussing heading into the SEC Tournament: 2-0 or 1-1. 2-0 means you beat Arkansas; 1-1 means you don’t. Here’s what this would look like as of now. The S-curve rankings are the same, because as of this morning, Tennessee ranked 11th on both Torvik’s site and the general consensus.

2-0, 23-7, 14-4 SEC

Projected S-curve rank: 8th
Projected seed: 2

I struggle to believe this a little bit – I personally think Tennessee would still be a 3 seed, albeit higher than 11th. Still: you’re looking at a position where you enter the SEC Tournament no worse than a 3 seed and in a serious battle for the 2-line. Considering where everyone believed this season was going in January, that’s quite nice. Remind yourself that a 2-0 finish is the most likely scenario (68% odds of happening, per KenPom) and feel happy.

1-1, 22-8, 13-5 SEC

Projected S-curve rank: 11th
Projected seed: 3

Less ideal, but not destructive. The key thing here is that Tennessee would cede ground to Arkansas, but they have a significant resume gap between them and, say, Providence or UCLA. I think Tennessee would certainly be at risk of falling to a 4 depending on SEC Tournament output, though.

Who do you think Tennessee is most likely to draw?

I’m restricting this to the top 4 seeds surrounding Tennessee in a given bracket, because when you get down to 9 and 10 seeds it’s a little fraught. (I’ll still get to this shortly, just not in bracket format.) There are two main scenarios here that are covered, because Tennessee has two paths that encompass roughly 70% of possible outcomes: a 2 seed or a 3 seed. (Plus, this is already going to be a very long post.) Before we get into it, there are some key restrictions you must know.

  1. There’s a specific wording that is worth keeping in mind: “The committee will not compromise the principle of keeping the top four teams from the same conference in separate regions.” What this means is that Tennessee cannot draw Kentucky or Auburn within their region. They cannot draw Arkansas, either. Any SEC team Tennessee gets would be a 5 seed or lower, and even then, there are further restrictions. As such:
  2. You can’t draw a one-time opponent prior to the Round of 32, a two-time opponent prior to the Sweet Sixteen, or a three-time opponent prior to the Elite Eight. Unless they play them in the SEC Tournament, this indeed means Tennessee could draw Alabama in the second round, but it’s only if the committee cannot find a way to avoid that, which would be unlikely. For instance, Tennessee could end up a 3 seed and draw LSU as a 7 or something. Maybe they get Alabama as a 5, whatever. The point is that you likely won’t re-draw an SEC opponent unless multiple upsets happen.
  3. Non-conference rematches are to be avoided in the Round of 64. Meaning: Tennessee isn’t that likely to get any of their opponents as a 13/14/15/16 seed, but if UNC Greensboro or someone wins their conference, the committee would work hard to ensure that’s not Tennessee’s opponent.

So! Now you know.

If Tennessee is a 2 seed…

Potential seed line opponents, per the latest Bracket Matrix consensus:

  • 1 line: Gonzaga, Arizona, Kansas
  • 3 line: Duke, Texas Tech, Villanova, Wisconsin
  • 4 line: Providence, UCLA, Illinois, Connecticut

A path does exist where Tennessee has to go through multiple previous opponents to make the Final Four. I would imagine the Committee probably tries to avoid that wherever possible. For the purpose of our guesswork here, we’re placing Tennessee as the final 2 seed and bumping Duke (the current final 2 seed) to a 3. Seeing as there’s no direct S-curve conflicts, Tennessee would then likely draw Gonzaga as their 1 seed. Not great! But it’s there.

Tennessee would then most likely draw Duke as their 3 seed, as they’re next on the seed list. After that, the current final 4 seed (16th overall) is Connecticut, who would be the 4. That was deceptively easy. As a whole, this scenario would only require a couple of seed list switches. This would be your top four and their respective regions:

  • West: Gonzaga, Tennessee, Duke, UConn
  • South: Arizona, Purdue, Texas Tech, Providence
  • Midwest: Kansas, Kentucky, Villanova, Illinois
  • East: Auburn, Baylor, Wisconsin, UCLA

If Tennessee is a 3 seed…

Potential seed line opponents, per the latest Bracket Matrix consensus:

  • 1 line: Gonzaga, Arizona, Kansas
  • 2 line: Baylor, Purdue, Duke
  • 4 line: Providence, UCLA, Illinois, Connecticut

Not much really changes here, but let’s say that Tennessee stays precisely where they’re at: the 11th-team on the seed list, the third-highest three seed. You still can’t play Auburn or Kentucky at any seed line, so disregard both.

We’re assuming this goes in order of what it currently says: Gonzaga-Arizona-Kansas-Auburn/Baylor for your 1 seeds. If you want Baylor ahead of Auburn, sure, doesn’t really change much. It then goes (in order of opponent associated with above) Duke-Purdue-Kentucky-Baylor/Auburn. What this means is:

  • Texas Tech cannot be in the Auburn/Baylor region or the Kansas region.
  • Wisconsin (the final three seed) cannot be in the Arizona region.
  • Tennessee cannot be in the Auburn/Baylor region or the Kansas region (due to Kentucky as the 2).

This leaves two options for Tennessee: either Gonzaga’s region or Arizona’s. It does the same for Texas Tech. (Villanova has no restrictions and can go wherever.) By following the seeding order, Texas Tech would go to Gonzaga’s region, as they have no conflicts with either Gonzaga or Duke. Tennessee would then only have one possibility left: the Arizona region, where they would have to beat Purdue to make the Elite Eight. (Villanova would then filter into the Kansas/Kentucky region, followed by Wisconsin to Auburn/Baylor.)

Here’s your respective regions:

  • West: Gonzaga, Duke, Texas Tech, Connecticut
  • South: Arizona, Purdue, Tennessee, Providence
  • Midwest: Kansas, Kentucky, Villanova, Illinois
  • East: Auburn, Baylor, Wisconsin, UCLA

What are the seeds you most want in your bracket?

Instead of doing the usual good/bad draw thing, just use this as a general basis for Selection Sunday. I’ll re-edit it on that particular Sunday, but I guess you can take this as a loose guide to monitor over the next 13 days. I’m waiting to do the back half of this (AKA, the 12-16 seeds and all 9-11s) until conference tournament season ends.

  • 1 seeds: I’m loosely taking the top six Matrix teams as potential 1 seeds. Purdue or Duke could reasonably rise to a 1, but it seems unlikely. Anyway, of the teams you actually can draw, Tennessee wants Kansas (#6 overall in KenPom) as their 1. By a hair, they’re the lowest-rated 1. Really, as long as it isn’t Gonzaga (#1 overall by five full points), it’s not a bad draw.
  • 2 seeds: Wide range of potential draws here: anyone from Kansas to Villanova could potentially be your pick. Either way, there is an obvious desire here: Purdue (#13 overall), who has the nation’s best offense but its 106th-best defense.
  • 3 seeds: From here on, we’re just going with “has an average seed from 3.0-4.0” or similar. That gives you exactly two options to pick from for a 3, and the one you clearly want is Wisconsin (#26 overall), who would be the lowest-rated KenPom 3 seed since #28 Utah in 2015-16, a team that lost in the Round of 32.
  • 4 seeds: Providence (#38 overall). Obviously.
  • 5 seeds: No great options here, as two of them are SEC schools and the other two are ranked 14th and 21st by KenPom. If you have to pick one, Ohio State (#21 overall) has an 87th-ranked defense.
  • 6 seeds: If you want a bad one because you’re the 3, USC (#33 overall) is the obvious pick, a team that is 25-4 but has awful metrics to go with it and plays in a mediocre conference. If you want a good one because you’re the 2, Saint Mary’s (#16 overall), is going to almost certainly be underseeded.
  • 7 seeds: If you’re the 3 and you want a good one, Iowa (#15 overall) is…well, your pick. I don’t actually like it, because Tennessee is just four spots ahead of Iowa, but if you get to the Sweet Sixteen and it’s a 7 seed standing between you and the Elite Eight, you take what you can get. If you’re the 2 and you want a lesser 7: Marquette (#37 overall) is playing more like a 9/10.
  • 8 seeds: If you’re a 2 or 3 and you want the best possible 8 seed to knock out your 1, you can’t go wrong with either Boise State (#25 overall) or Murray State (#27 overall), two mid-majors who are white-hot and probably deserve better seeds. If you’re the 1 seed, you want an easier path, so you’d want…uh, Iowa State (#31 overall)? No truly bad options here at the moment, but Iowa State is #119 in offense.

Where will Tennessee be headed for the first two rounds?

Bear with me here, as it’s a complicated affair. This one was requested by a message board user, and to be frank, I can more easily explain this than I can regional possibilities. (Because Tennessee likely won’t be a 1 seed, there’s a lot of factors that go into which of the four regions they’ll eventually call home.) This year, for teams in Southeastern states, the pickings are slim: only Greenville, South Carolina offers a site that’s close to any SEC school. Indianapolis, a 5.5-hour drive from Knoxville, is second-closest.

The best way of explaining this is to offer a description of all eight sites, along with which teams are closest to them. What I’m doing is taking the top 24 teams in Bracket Matrix as of this morning and simply seeing which schools are within 500 miles of each site. (It’s just a big round number, don’t read too deeply into it.) Of the eight first and second-round sites, this is what we’re looking at. An important note for someone, surely: these are point-to-point miles, not driving distance. Why? Well, you try doing this in Google Maps 200 times.

Teams Within 500 Miles of a Site, Per a Website My Brother Sent Me

  • Buffalo, NY (Thu/Sat): Kentucky (440 miles), Purdue (447), Duke (476), Villanova (280), Providence (388), Connecticut (193), Ohio State (290)
  • Fort Worth, TX (Thu/Sat): Kansas (445), Baylor (83), Texas Tech (269), Houston (236), Texas (174), Arkansas (292)
  • Indianapolis, IN (Thu/Sat): Kansas (488), Auburn (496), Kentucky (148), Purdue (62), Duke (474), Tennessee (290), Wisconsin (286), Illinois (113), Ohio State (168), Alabama (435)
  • Portland, OR (Thu/Sat): Gonzaga (294)
  • Greenville, SC (Fri/Sun): Auburn (235), Kentucky (251), Purdue (459), Duke (213), Tennessee (115), Ohio State (355), Alabama (271)
  • Milwaukee, WI (Fri/Sun): Kansas (474), Kentucky (386), Purdue (186), Wisconsin (76), Illinois (203), Ohio State (327)
  • Pittsburgh, PA (Fri/Sun): Kentucky (289), Purdue (364), Duke (330), Villanova (256), Tennessee (376), Illinois (435), Providence (457), Connecticut (236), Ohio State (161)
  • San Diego, CA (Fri/Sun): Arizona (361), UCLA (112), USC (112), Saint Mary’s (CA) (451)

Here’s why all of this information is at least mildly useful.

  1. As of now, Gonzaga is 98% likely to be a 1 seed, per Torvik. We can lock them in for Portland, the only location with 300 miles of Spokane.
  2. You can fill in the blanks for a few of these locations by way of small packs to pick from. Each location gets two top 16 teams each. Without a single controversial decision, you could make the following set before we endure some tougher picks. This sets seven of the top 16 without much sweat.
    • Buffalo: Villanova
    • Fort Worth: Baylor, Kansas (their closest possible destination)
    • Indianapolis:
    • Portland: Gonzaga
    • Greenville:
    • Milwaukee: Wisconsin
    • Pittsburgh:
    • San Diego: Arizona, UCLA
  3. Process of elimination can fill in the rest. Here’s what I’ve arrived at, if literally nothing changes:
  • Buffalo: Villanova, Providence
  • Fort Worth: Baylor, Kansas
  • Indianapolis: Kentucky, Purdue
  • Portland: Gonzaga, Texas Tech
  • Greenville: Auburn, Duke
  • Milwaukee: Wisconsin, Illinois
  • Pittsburgh: Tennessee, Connecticut
  • San Diego: Arizona, UCLA

Many things will change. Here’s my rationale for each location:

  • Buffalo: Of the likely top-16 seeds (I’d argue everyone from 11th-place Tennessee on up is no worse than a 4 seed at season’s end), only Villanova is within 400 miles of this location. They’re an obvious pick. The ticket office is likely hoping UConn (193 miles away, big fanbase) is here, too, but Providence was ahead of them on the seed list.
  • Fort Worth: Baylor is 83 miles away. Kansas is not within 400 miles of any location this year, but this is the closest one and in Big 12 country. Unfortunately, this locks out Texas Tech of its only sub-500 mile location that’s available. If they finish ahead of either team in the seed curve or if Kansas elects to take Indianapolis or Milwaukee, they could very well be here instead.
  • Indianapolis: This is no worse than a three-hour drive for Kentucky fans, who travel in droves. Technically, Illinois is only 113 miles away, and Tennessee and Wisconsin are close too. However: Wisconsin has a closer site that they’ll be a top pick for. Tennessee’s only realistic path to Indianapolis is if Purdue is, uh, “selected” (AKA, the AD asks for it) to go to Milwaukee instead.
  • Portland: Gonzaga is the only team close at all to this location. I could reasonably see UCLA being shuffled here to make room for Texas Tech in Los Angeles, which is closer than Portland, but someone is going to get screwed. Happens every year.
  • Greenville: Assuming Kentucky picks Indianapolis, this is basically a two-out-of-three battle between Auburn, Duke, and Tennessee. If Tennessee is ahead of any one of those three teams, they will be in Greenville. Someone has to lose out, though. The most likely combination with Tennessee in it is Auburn/Tennessee, because this is Auburn’s closest location by some distance and Duke can pivot to Pittsburgh, which is two extra hours away.
  • Milwaukee: Again, Wisconsin (76 miles away) seems like a lock as long as they don’t blow a top-4 seed in the next two weeks. The next pick is more interesting. If Kansas pivots to Milwaukee to make room for Texas Tech in Fort Worth (which I wouldn’t really understand), that means Illinois gets sent to the West Coast. Alternately, if Purdue picks Milwaukee over Indianapolis, that sets off a chain of events that would also end up with Illinois on the West Coast.
  • Pittsburgh: This one is a mess. Seven of the Matrix’s top 19 teams are within a 400-mile drive of this city. You have to make a few assumptions to make it work: Kentucky’s out, Villanova’s out, Purdue’s out, and UConn/Ohio State may get there but possibly not as top-4 seeds. That leaves Duke and Tennessee, one of whom would be in Greenville already. Unless UConn stays at the 4 line, the other team here is a 4 seed that has nowhere else to go.
  • San Diego: Blissfully simple: Arizona’s closest location, as is UCLA’s. The only potential drama here is if UCLA gets shuffled up to Portland (826 miles) to make room for Texas Tech in San Diego (887), which may happen anyway if UCLA falls to a 5 or 6 seed.

How does the mess you typed out affect Tennessee?

Assuming no major outliers or overly weird events, I would rank Tennessee’s most likely locations as follows:

  1. Pittsburgh (45%)
  2. Greenville (30%)
  3. Indianapolis (15%)
  4. Randomizer (somehow losing out on all three, because Selection Committee) (10%)

The top two of those are Friday/Sunday locations, so I guess I’m saying Tennessee is looking at an ~80% shot of playing Friday/Sunday. Plan accordingly.

What time of day is Tennessee going to play?

Can’t really help you here. There’s a lot of different things that would go into this: which location you’re at, who else is in your ‘pod’, what crowd you’re expected to bring, if you’re paired with a West Coast team, etc. Not much really ends up being surprising about a tip time, really. The only thing you can expect is that games with 11/12-seed First Four teams are generally (but not always) later games on their given days due to the extra travel from Dayton. If Tennessee ends up a 3 seed in a pod where an 11 seed is headed from the First Four, that 6/11 game would be played no earlier than 3 PM Eastern and more likely would be something like a 9:30 PM tip, giving Tennessee the 7 PM ET game.

But yeah, other than that, not much I can tell you. Here’s Tennessee’s tip times since the field expanded to 68:

  • 4:30 PM ET (2021)
  • 3 PM ET (2019)
  • 12:40 PM ET (2018)
  • 2:45 PM ET (2014)
  • 12:40 PM ET (2011)

That’s five consecutive daytime tips in a row. A fair(ish) Selection Committee and TV crew would give Tennessee an evening slot, but they could’ve done that after three or four in a row, too. My recommendation is to not be surprised by anything that happens.

More questions? Concerns? Email with the subject line “Ham Sanitizer”.