Are Basketball Vols on Track for a No. 2 Seed?

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    Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

    March Madness is right around the corner, and the Vols are currently on a hot streak in men’s basketball. Could they be playing their way into one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament?

    Right now, the Vols hold a 17-5 overall record and have played their way into a 7-3 conference mark despite starting 0-2 in SEC play. The Vols have won five straight games and eight of their last nine contests. As of now, the Vols are ranked No. 18 in the AP Poll, but they should move up in that poll after two blowout victories against SEC opponents this past week.

    Not only that, but Tennessee has one of the best NCAA Tournament resumes around right now.

    There’s still plenty of work to be done in the month of February and in early March in the regular season. But right now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team with a better NCAA Tournament resume than the Vols.

    But does that mean Tennessee has the potential to play their way into a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament?

    Joe Lunardi of ESPN currently has Auburn, Michigan State, Xavier, and Duke as his No. 2 seeds in his bracketology (not updated after this weekend’s games yet, however), and Jerry Palm has Auburn, Kansas, Xavier, and Clemson as his No. 2 seeds. But in a blind resume test, how do the Vols stack up to these six different teams?

    You take a look and tell us which teams should be No. 2 seeds based on these resumes:

    Team No. 1

    RPI: 4
    SOS: 15
    vs. RPI 1-25: 4-2
    vs. RPI 1-50: 5-3
    vs. RPI 1-100: 10-4
    “Bad” Losses (vs. RPI 150+): None

    Team No. 2

    RPI: 9
    SOS: 4
    vs. RPI 25: 2-2
    vs. RPI 50: 6-4
    vs. RPI 100: 14-5
    “Bad” Losses (vs. RPI 150+): None

    Team No. 3

    RPI: 13
    SOS: 23
    vs. RPI 25: 3-3
    vs. RPI 50: 3-5
    vs. RPI 100: 8-5
    “Bad” Losses (vs. RPI 150+): None

    Team No.4 

    RPI: 22
    SOS: 121
    vs. RPI 25: 1-2
    vs. RPI 50: 1-3
    vs. RPI 100: 6-3
    “Bad” Losses (vs. RPI 150+): None

    Team No. 5

    RPI: 3
    SOS: 25
    vs. RPI 25: 3-1
    vs. RPI 50: 4-3
    vs. RPI 100: 12-3
    “Bad” Losses (vs. RPI 150+): None

    Team No. 6 

    RPI: 7
    SOS: 26
    vs. RPI 25: 2-1
    vs. RPI 50: 5-1
    vs. RPI 100: 8-4
    “Bad” Losses (vs. RPI 150+): None

    Team No. 7

    RPI: 5
    SOS: 60
    vs. RPI 25: 2-0
    vs. RPI 50: 4-2
    vs. RPI 100: 10-2
    “Bad” Losses (vs. RPI 150+): None

    Could you pick out which one Tennessee’s was?

    The Vols’ resume was Team No. 3 in this blind test, and their numbers stack up very favorably to most of the other projected No. 2 seeds in both Lunardi’s and Palm’s predictions. In fact, the Vols’ overall resume is better than Team No. 4, which is Michigan State.

    For clarity, Team No. 1 was Clemson, Team No. 2 was Kansas, Team No. 5 was Xavier, Team No. 6 was Duke, and Team No. 7 was Auburn.

    Tennessee’s resume is far from a finished product, however, and some of their toughest tests are still on the horizon. The Vols just beat up on teams in the 70-120 range in the RPI over the last few weeks. Tennessee’s best win during their five-game winning streak was against South Carolina, and the Gamecocks are No. 63 in the RPI.

    The next few weeks will be much tougher, however.

    Tennessee faces Kentucky in a huge match-up in Lexington on Tuesday. The Wildcats are No. 16 in the RPI, and the Vols haven’t won in Rupp Arena since 2006. Tennessee follows that up with a trip to Alabama (36th), a rematch with South Carolina at home (63rd), a trip to Georgia (57th) then a game against Florida (47th) at home. Tennessee also has a game against Mississippi State (52nd) and closes out the regular season by hosting Georgia again.

    The average RPI ranking of Tennessee’s opponents during their five-game winning streak was 84. The average RPI ranking of the Vols’ next eight opponents is 50.5.

    Tennessee is currently trending in the right direction if they want a No. 2 seed in the tournament. But there are plenty of areas where the Vols could slip up in the month of February, and this next month will be a huge determining factor in where the Vols get placed in the NCAA Tournament.

    The Vols have only twice ever received a No. 2 seed in the tournament, and both times were under Bruce Pearl. Tennessee didn’t fare well as a two-seed either time they earned it, however. Tennessee was bounced in the second round in 2006 as a No. 2 seed and then lost in the Sweet Sixteen to Louisville by 19 points in 2008 as a two-seed.