Coming into Rick Barnes’ second season as the Vols’ basketball coach, very few expected Tennessee to be anywhere close to sniffing the NCAA Tournament in the month of February.
But here we are, and the Vols are firmly “on the bubble” for the Big Dance.
With Tennessee’s comeback win over Ole Miss at home on Friday night, the Vols helped their chances of getting in to the NCAA Tournament as an at large bid.
According to TeamRankings.com’s bracketology, the Vols now have a 49 percent chance of making the NCAA Tournament. That’s Tennessee’s highest percentage of getting in to the tournament of the season. Their projections also say Tennessee is most likely to get anywhere between a 10 and 12 seed should they make it as an at large bid. They predict the Vols will finish with an 18-13 regular season record.
Ken Pomeroy, an NCAA basketball statistical guru, has the Vols ranked as the No. 36 overall team in the country. He has them as the 4th-highest ranked SEC team, trailing only Florida (6), Kentucky (7), and South Carolina (27).
Here is the Vols’ NCAA Tournament résumé at a glance:
SEC Record: 6-5
vs. RPI 50: 3-7
vs. RPI 100: 8-9
KenPom Ranking: 36
According to data compiled by CBS basketball analyst Jerry Palm, no team in the “Big Six” (the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) with Tennessee’s RPI has been left out of the NCAA Tournament since 2005. The highest RPI ranking from a team that was left out of the Big Dance was 40, and that was Cincinnati in 2006.
Palm’s data should also give Vol fans hope about Tennessee not finishing with an exceptionally high number of wins. As said above, the Vols are projected to win at least 18 games. The lowest win total of any team to make the NCAA Tournament since 2005 was 17 wins by both Alabama in 2006 and Oklahoma State in 2015. The worst overall record to get in the Big Dance was 18-14, and both Arizona in 2008 and Michigan State in 2011 made it in with that record.
The Vols still have a slim margin for error if they want to make it to the NCAA Tournament. But they’re squarely on the bubble for now and are in good position moving forward.