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.

Show Me My SEC Tournament Opponent, 2020-21: Alabama

Well it’s these guys again. I think you may have heard about them over the past two months, perhaps?

It’s worth breaking down just how much has changed since the first and only time Tennessee faced this Alabama team. Heading into January 2, Tennessee sat as the #6 team in KenPom, undefeated and coming off of an absolute destruction of what we thought would be the second-best team in the SEC, Missouri. Alabama was #45, had lost at home to Western Kentucky two weeks prior, and came very close to dropping a mid-December home game to Furman. The Tide had potential, but they didn’t seem to be quite in the same stratosphere as Tennessee at the time.

On March 13, 2021, it’s like everything has flipped. Alabama obviously won that first game, then simply went on to smoke the rest of the SEC (minus Missouri, strangely, and Arkansas) and finished 16-2 in conference play. They’re now #8 on KenPom. Tennessee began to wobble with the Alabama game, fully fell off the table at times, and squeaked out a 10-7 SEC record in one of the most frustrating seasons in program history.

We thought we know a lot in January. We didn’t. The question remaining is this: how much have both teams learned about themselves and each other since then?

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: 1 seed Alabama (22-6, 16-2). They defeated 9 seed Mississippi State 85-48 yesterday.
  • THE TIME: 1 PM ET.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Karl Ravech (PBP) and, yes, Dick Vitale (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Alabama -3.5.

If you’d like to skip ahead to a certain section, click below.

NEXT PAGE: When I have more time, please remind me to write something about how smaller conferences in college basketball mostly do a terrible job of protecting their best teams in the conference tournament. Been on my mind this week!

Show Me My SEC Tournament Opponent, 2020-21: Florida

Hey, look who it is! Didn’t Tennessee just get done playing this team five days ago? Why, yes, they did. What you’ll see below is just about exactly the last preview, though with some small alterations and an attempt to show just how badly Florida was harmed down the stretch by having Tre Mann (their leading scorer in SEC play) unavailable for the game due to a migraine. Florida beat Vanderbilt 69-63 yesterday, if you didn’t see it, with Mann going for 22 points. He is important. So is this game for Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament seeding hopes.

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: 5-seed Florida (14-8, 9-7).
  • THE TIME: 30 minutes after Alabama/Mississippi State; most likely around 2:30 PM ET.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Karl Ravech (PBP) and Jimmy Dykes (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -4.5????

Click below to achieve your dreams of drifting ahead to your preferred section.

NEXT PAGE: Did you know Tennessee hasn’t beaten Florida in the SEC Tournament since 1984? They’ve also only played Florida thrice in the SECT since then, but, yeah

How high or low can Tennessee be seeded in the NCAA Tournament?

Somehow, after 17 years of COVID-19 (citation needed), the SEC Tournament will be taking place later this week. Regardless of how everything shakes out, it will simply be great to watch a conference tournament be played again. The sensation of watching a school pull an upset (as long as it’s not against your school) is just about unbeatable.

Tennessee will open their SEC Tournament experience on Friday against one of Florida, Texas A&M, or Vanderbilt. Both KenPom and Bart Torvik agree that it’s around 80% likely to be Florida, but that does leave open the 20% chance that it’s someone else. As such, that leaves open a lot of potential scenarios for Tennessee to work their way through this upcoming weekend. All of these scenarios have serious NCAA Tournament implications, and using Bart Torvik’s amazing TeamCast tool, I’ve tried to work my way through all of the mostly-useful scenarios I could think of.

We’ll go through each scenario one-by-one. I have elected to restrain myself from covering a couple, such as playing a 12/13 seed in the quarterfinals then an 8/9 in the semifinals simply because the odds are so low. (Roughly 2%.) As of this morning, Tennessee ranks out as the top 6 seed (21st overall) on Bracket Matrix while ranking as the second 5 seed (18th overall) on Torvik. It’s only a three-slot difference, and if you feel like adjusting downward using the Matrix average, feel free to. (I’ll include it in parentheses alongside the Torvik projection, simply as a rough approximation of what it would look like by consensus ranking.)

In the meantime, I’m trying to perfect this video step-by-step:

  1. 0-1, quarterfinals loss to either Texas A&M or Vanderbilt

Average outcome, per Bart Torvik’s TeamCast: 6 seed, 24th on seed list (7 seed, 27th on Matrix)

This would obviously be a disaster. Losing to either of these teams is really embarrassing and opens the door for Tennessee to have a really bad seeding outcome. I’ve no interest in falling out of what I’d call the Upset Range (being a 6 seed or better), and finding a way to lose to either the 95th or 129th-ranked team by KenPom would be awful. It’s like losing a home game in non-conference play to Tulsa or someone. Let’s avoid talking about it.

2. 0-1, quarterfinals loss to Florida

Average outcome: 6 seed, 21st on seed list (6 seed, 24th on Matrix)

Also not ideal, though this is much more realistic. Despite playing Florida twice already, Tennessee still hasn’t played a full-strength Florida team, and for 56 of the 80 minutes they’ve played the Gators, they’ve gotten rocked. However, the final 24 minutes of Sunday’s game were the most promising minutes Tennessee’s showed in a game since they defeated Kansas. You’d hope they can build off of that and simply avoid disaster.

3. 1-1, win over Florida, loss to Alabama in semifinals

Average outcome: 5 seed, 17th on seed list (5 seed, 20th on Matrix)

I admit I’m surprised that this would actually boost Tennessee, considering they’re likely to be seeded higher than Florida anyway. That said, gaining a win over a team that will be around a 7-9 seed is never a bad thing, particularly if it’s not a home game. Losing a second time to Alabama would be disappointing, but they are the best team in the SEC, so it’s not like it would be stunning. If Tennessee only gets one win this weekend, this is the best scenario you can dream up. The average outcome is probably a 4 or 5 seed, and it would be hard to see Tennessee falling past a 6 seed.

4. 1-1, win over Texas A&M or Vanderbilt, loss to Alabama in semifinals

Average outcome: 5 seed, 18th on seed list (6 seed, 21st on Matrix)

While it would be nice to avoid Florida, it might not be the best move for Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament seeding. Per Torvik’s simulator, losing to Florida is almost the same as beating a bad Vandy team then losing to Alabama. The win over Vanderbilt does nothing to boost Tennessee’s resume; it’s like having not played a game at all. I’d somewhat rather play Vanderbilt because I greatly enjoy watching Florida lose basketball games, but it might be a bad thing for Tennessee if that happened.

5. 1-1, win over Florida, loss to Kentucky or Mississippi State in semifinals

Average outcome: 5 seed, 18th on seed list (6 seed, 21st on Matrix)

I think this would be the absolute dumbest and most infuriating outcome on the board by a mile. Imagine finally getting to beat full-strength Florida right after watching the SEC’s best team lose to a Kentucky or Mississippi State team that isn’t making the NCAA Tournament. Then, the next day, you lose to that exact team. I think I’d have to log off for a week. And yet: it doesn’t actually appear to be that disastrous? Kentucky and Miss State both would be Q2 losses, which is better than Q3 or Q4. (It would make Tennessee’s Q2 record an incredibly embarrassing 2-3, though.) This exact scenario screams 6 seed to me; it yells “you will be playing VCU on Friday afternoon.”

6. 2-1, wins over Florida and Alabama, loss to Arkansas…

Average outcome: 3 seed, 11th on seed list (4 seed, 14th on Matrix)

Oh my. If you’ve got to lose a game this weekend, this is the path. I have to be honest and say it’s really hard for me to imagine Tennessee getting a 3 seed without winning the SEC Tournament, but this clearly opens the path to a 4 seed and probably no worse than a 5. With this, you’d add a pair of Quad 1 wins, beat a near-certain 2 seed, and your loss would be to the hottest team in the SEC who’s on track for a 2 or 3 seed. It’s not that bad of an outcome…but this would be Tennessee’s third straight loss in the SEC Tournament championship. It would hurt, badly.

…or LSU…

Average outcome: 3 seed, 11th on seed list (4 seed, 14th on Matrix)

LSU seems destined for an 8 or 9 seed, but as we saw a few weeks back, they can get hot at any time and it’s very, very hard to slow their offense down. (Alabama is the only school to consistently do this all season.) I’d still have a hard time seeing Tennessee come out of this scenario at something worse than a 5 seed.

…or a lower seed 

Average outcome: 4 seed, 14th on seed list (5 seed, 17th on Matrix)

I chose both Ole Miss and Missouri for this example; they’re the 6 and 7 seeds, and the 10 and 11 seeds (Georgia and South Carolina) have a combined 2.5% chance of making the title game. This is the most annoying possible outcome out of the “make it to the SEC Championship Game” scenarios, obviously. A loss to either Ole Miss or Missouri probably opens the door back to potentially being a 6 seed, and it definitely eliminates the chance of Tennessee getting any higher than a 4. There’s only a 28.5% chance of one of these teams being in the title game, so it’s unlikely, but if it happens, Tennessee simply has to win.

7. Win the whole freaking thing

Average outcome: 3 seed, 9th on seed list (3 seed, 12th on Matrix)

For this, I used the average among all potential opponents, weighted towards each opponent’s likelihood of making the title game. Using all of these, Tennessee came closest to being the highest 3 seed, and in some scenarios (particularly any scenario involving beating both Florida and Alabama), Tennessee was the lowest 2 seed on Torvik’s TeamCast. This would be amazing for several reasons – being the 4 seed and making it this far; the first SEC Tournament championship since 1979; the reclamation of the last two months of frustrating basketball. Which is why I simply can’t allow myself to believe this is a possibility.

So, yes, Tennessee still could end up as a 3 seed. Or, alternately, a 7 seed is on the table. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, and we’ll simply have to wait and find out what it is.