Vols Basketball Trending Towards NCAA Tournament

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    Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

    Tennessee’s men’s basketball team continues to trend in the right direction. And they have a huge opportunity on Sunday to continue that trend.

    Joe Lunardi of ESPN updated his NCAA Tournament bracket projections in his latest “bracketology,” and the Vols have moved up in his predictions. Last week, Lunardi had the Vols as a 7-seed playing 10-seed Maryland in the West bracket. This week, Lunaradi has the Vols as a 6-seed and playing the winner of the 11-seed play-in game.

    The Vols haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2014 during Cuonzo Martin’s last season as Tennessee’s head basketball coach. Tennessee made a Sweet Sixteen run that year as an 11-seed, and they had to defeat Iowa in a play-in game to even make it into the main bracket field.

    A 6-seed would be Tennessee’s best seeding in the NCAA Tournament since they were a 6-seed in the 2010 bracket. That year was the Vols’ best NCAA Tournament run in program history, as the Bruce Pearl-led Vols dashed through the tournament and made it to an Elite Eight. That’s the furthest Tennessee has ever made it in the NCAA Tournament.

    Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the Vols have made it to the Big Dance 12 times. Of those 12 times, they’ve been a 6-seed or better only six times. And four of those times were under Bruce Pearl.

    Tennessee’s tournament resume this season is one of the strongest through the first month of play in college basketball. The Vols are 7-1, ranked 20th in the AP Poll, and have the No. 5 RPI in the entire country. They’re 3-1 against teams inside the top 100 of the RPI and own a top 25 RPI victory over Purdue. Their only loss this season so far is to the team currently ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, Villanova.

    And the Vols have a chance this Sunday to improve that resume even more.

    Tennessee hosts No. 7 North Carolina this Sunday. The Tarheels are a top 10 RPI team and will be the second-best team the Vols have faced to this point in the season. A victory over North Carolina would be a gigantic boost for an already impressive tournament resume.

    The Vols are off to their best start in seven years this season. And as long as they don’t have a complete collapse at some point this year, they should make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014.