Tennessee’s remaining SEC Tournament scenarios, from a 1 seed to a 4

Well, the fun part of being out of office for a week is that you end up in a manic writing mode the very first day you come back. This is a good thing, I think. Tennessee’s regular season is just two games away from ending, and things have set up quite well for them. How well? I can help you explore that.

There are three Tennessee-specific scenarios singled out here. I’m not including the one where Tennessee drops a stunner to Georgia because…well, let’s just not go there. (It would almost certainly result in a 4 seed, so just keep that in mind.) These are what I’d consider to be three pretty obvious ones, all of which directly play a role in Tennessee’s seeding outcomes. You can flip games around if you choose (use the tool I used!), but if Tennessee wins out, only one other game actually matters this week for determining where they’d finish.

  1. Go 2-0, all the KenPom favorites win.

Result: 2 seed (tipoff 6 PM ET, Friday)
Projected Opponent: winner of (10) Mississippi State/(7) LSU

Here is the most likely scenario, but in the sense that in a pack of nearly 200 possible outcomes, the most likely 14-game pack of events has a 1% chance of happening. ANYWAY, this is assuming a moderately obvious string of events: Auburn goes 2-0 and wins the conference, Kentucky goes 2-0 and finishes third, Arkansas goes 1-1, no sort of upset happens. This is what that bracket would look like.

You’re looking at a potential road that sees Tennessee having to defeat KenPom #17, #2, and #10 for a conference title. Not ideal. These would be the odds, using Bart Torvik’s Tournament Simulator tool but with KenPom’s February 27 numbers:

Considering Tennessee’s base title odds right now are 19.4%, I guess that’s technically an improvement, but it’s certainly not your happiest path to Sunday. Either way: 14-4 gives you the SEC 2 seed and a real win-and-2-seed opportunity with Kentucky that Saturday.

2. Go 2-0, Auburn loses to Mississippi State on Wednesday, all other KenPom favorites win.

Result: 1 seed (!!!) (tipoff 12 PM ET, Friday)
Projected Opponent: winner of (9) Texas A&M/(8) Mississippi State

Oh yeah. This is what I was referencing: as long as Tennessee goes 2-0 this week, only one game actually matters for them that they aren’t involved in. Auburn plays twice this week, but the second of those is Senior Day at home against South Carolina (92% win likelihood), so no need. What we really care about here is that Wednesday tip with Mississippi State. If Auburn loses this game, which they have a 35% chance of doing, Tennessee will be the 1 seed by defeating Arkansas. The last time Tennessee was the SEC Tournament 1 seed, I was 14. I am 28 now.

This, frankly, would be a gigantic swing for Tennessee. Auburn would fall to second and Kentucky third, meaning Tennessee would play neither team until championship Sunday. This is what such a bracket would look like:

And these would be the odds:

As a spoiler, Kentucky is going to be the SEC Tournament favorite, barring some sort of insane draw. (As in them getting LSU > Auburn > Tennessee or similar.) There are two main points here: Tennessee’s title odds would jump 8%, and they’d have a >50% chance to be playing in the championship game on Sunday. That exact scenario – beat Mississippi State, beat Arkansas – would currently place Tennessee as the final 2 seed in the field heading into Sunday, per Torvik’s TeamCast tool. What more could you ask for?

3. Go 1-1, all other KenPom favorites win.

Result: 4 seed (tipoff ~2:30 PM ET, Friday)
Projected Opponent: winner of (5) Alabama vs. (12) Missouri or (13) Ole Miss

Ugh. Arkansas beats Tennessee, everything else holds. Don’t feel like discussing this extremely annoying scenario much, so hopefully it doesn’t happen. Anyway, here’s that bracket:

And here’s the odds.


Here’s a big grab-bag of various possible outcomes that don’t necessarily involve Tennessee, but we’ll toss Tennessee in at the end of each for context:

  • The higher-ranked KenPom team wins each game. This does not mean the favorite wins each; for example, Florida is rated higher than Vanderbilt, but Vanderbilt being at home gives them the projected edge. Flipping that result as well as two others (State > A&M, Vandy > Ole Miss) would create a sixth-place four-way tie at 9-9. In this scenario, 2 seed Tennessee would play the winner of (7) Florida/(10) Vanderbilt.
  • Every home team wins…except Georgia. Plausible! The SEC home win rate this year is 64.3%, the highest of any college basketball conference. If home teams go 13-1 (including a Tennessee 2-0 run), Tennessee would be the 1 seed and would play the winner of (8) South Carolina/(9) Mississippi State. Wildest of all: the 4 seed would be Kentucky.
  • The scenario where all KenPom favorites win. AKA, the most likely scenario, but not necessarily the one that will happen. This is what such a bracket would look like:
    • (1) Auburn vs. (8) Texas A&M/(9) Florida
    • (2) Tennessee vs. (7) LSU/(10) Mississippi State
    • (3) Kentucky vs. (6) South Carolina/(11) Vanderbilt/(14) Georgia
    • (4) Arkansas vs. (5) Alabama/(12) Missouri/(13) Mississippi
  • The projected KenPom standings themselves. Which have Auburn at 15-3, UK/UT at 14-4, Arkansas 13-5, and a mess behind it.
  • This exact standings order cannot exist, because of some of the remaining matchups. However, a force-fit of an arrangement like this produces:
    • (1) Auburn vs. (8) South Carolina/(9) Mississippi State
    • (2) Tennessee vs. (7) Florida/(10) Vanderbilt
    • (3) Kentucky vs. (6) LSU/(11) Texas A&M/(14) Georgia
    • (4) Arkansas vs. (5) Alabama/(12) Missouri/(13) Ole Miss
  • The Schadenfreude Scenario. The one where your mortal enemies go to die. Bask in the glory of this one: Florida goes 0-2. Will Wade goes 0-2. Auburn drops a game. Vandy goes 2-0 and extends Stackhouse. Alabama loses at home to Texas A&M. Kentucky…well, bear with me. But think about that: a ruthlessly funny batch of results that simply makes you bask in hatred. This results in three extremely wonderful things: a three-way tie for the 1 seed that Tennessee wins, Tennessee avoids Auburn AND Kentucky until the final, and it produces a four-way tie at 8-10 that would give Florida the 11 seed and LSU the 9. That’s right: Florida and Mike White, depending on other results, can still potentially play on Wednesday. Here’s what that bracket looks like:
    • (1) Tennessee vs. (8) Vanderbilt/(9) LSU
    • (2) Auburn vs. (7) South Carolina/(10) Texas A&M
    • (3) Kentucky vs. (6) Mississippi State/(11) Florida/(14) Georgia
    • (4) Arkansas vs. (5) Alabama/(12) Missouri/(13) Mississippi
  • The Maximize Your Resume Scenario. This one was a request and a fairly simple one: what’s the three-game path that gives Tennessee the highest possible amount of Quadrant 1 wins? As a reminder, anyone in the NET Top 50 on a neutral floor is a Quadrant 1 opponent. As of time of publishing, only six SEC teams rank in the top 50, but two teams – Florida and Mississippi State – are 51st and 52nd. It’s reasonable to say that either could slide into the top 50 based on other results. So: you’d prefer Florida or MSU as your quarterfinals opponent and no major upsets elsewhere. Something like this would be acceptable. In fact, the scenario above where every KenPom favorite wins leads to exactly this, and if State beats LSU, they could very well be in the top 50.
  • The 3 Seed Scenario. Say you’re a guy…perhaps one named Will Warren…and two months ago, you signed up for a half-marathon on March 12. This is a virtual half, but for two months, you’ve planned to run this at sunrise, which is 6:03 AM Central that day. And say that the SEC Tournament has its 3 seed play at 7:30 PM Central, which doesn’t seem that late but is not ideal for a cramped schedule. Say that, like every other conference tournament basketball game, it starts 15 minutes later than expected and ends at 10. Technically, Tennessee can still be the 3 seed, but it requires a string of independent events to go precisely this way:
    • Arkansas beats LSU (60% chance)
    • Arkansas beats Tennessee (27% chance)
    • Kentucky beats Ole Miss (94% chance)
    • Kentucky loses to Florida (29% chance)
    • Tennessee beats Georgia (93% chance)
  • I guess it’s troubling that only two upsets is required to get there, but that’s still two upsets, neither of which are that likely. I would place the order of seeding likelihood at 2 > 1 >> 4 >>>> 3.
  • Chaos Mode Scenario, Tennessee Edition. Everyone implodes. Tennessee loses to Arkansas. Kentucky loses twice, somehow. So does Auburn. Arkansas loses to LSU. Will this happen? Of course not. But in the very rare event of a four-way tie at 13-5, it resolves like this:
    • 1. Arkansas (4-0 against other three)
    • 2. Tennessee (2-3)
    • 3. Auburn (1-2)
    • 4. Kentucky (1-3)
  • Chaos Mode Scenario, Mid-Pack Edition. Basically: how many teams can possibly tie for any given spot? As of now, six teams can tie at 9-9, which would involve everything from the 5 seed to the 10. This specific scenario predictably requires an unusual string of results, which is as follows.
    • Florida goes 1-1, losing to Vanderbilt but beating Kentucky.
    • Alabama goes 0-2.
    • LSU goes 1-1, losing to Arkansas but beating Alabama.
    • Mississippi State goes 1-1, beating Auburn and losing to Texas A&M.
    • South Carolina goes 1-1.
    • Texas A&M goes 1-1.
  • This combines to create the following hilarious standings order, which I am now rooting for. It would also obviously result in 1 seed Tennessee due to the Auburn loss.
    • 5. LSU (5-2 against this six-team pack)
    • 6. Alabama (4-3)
    • 7. South Carolina (3-3, but 1-0 against A&M)
    • 8. Texas A&M (3-3, but 0-1 against Carolina)
    • 9. Florida (2-3)
    • 10. Mississippi State (2-3)

If you have other questions or scenarios you want explored, email statsbywill@gmail.com and I’ll get back to you.