Tennessee’s men’s basketball team is receiving tons of positivity from college basketball analysts when it comes to predicting what seed they’ll earn in the NCAA Tournament. But the Vols are in line to make a big jump in those predictions tonight if they can find a way to defeat Kentucky.
No. 15 Tennessee travels up to Lexington to take on No. 24 Kentucky tonight at 7:00 Eastern on ESPN. For the Vols, tonight’s game will be their toughest remaining test in the regular season according to the RPI. Tennessee currently sits at No. 13 in the RPI while the Wildcats are No. 16 in the RPI. No other team left on the Vols’ schedule is inside the top 25 of the RPI, though Alabama, Tennessee’s opponent this upcoming Saturday, is fairly close at No. 36.
The Vols haven’t won in Rupp Arena since 2006 when Bruce Pearl’s No. 11 Tennessee squad rolled up to Lexington and handed the unranked Wildcats a 75-67 loss. Since 1979, Tennessee has won just three times in Lexington.
It’s not easy for anyone to defeat Kentucky on their home court, but that seems especially true for the Vols.
If the Vols do manage to pull off the victory tonight, however, they stand to make a big jump in the “bracketology” for the NCAA Tournament. Predictions mean little, especially in early February. But the Vols are being predicted by many to earn at least a No. 3 seed in the tournament, and adding another win over a top 25 RPI team would further solidify those predictions and likely start putting Tennessee legitimately into the conversation for a No. 2 seed or maybe a No. 1 seed.
As it stands right now, Joe Lunardi of ESPN has the Vols projected as a No. 4 seed in Wichita taking on No. 13 seed Buffalo. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports puts the Vols as a No. 3 seed in Nashville to face No. 14 seed Charleston. And SB Nation has the Vols as a No. 3 seed in Nashville as well, only they have them playing Rider as a No. 14 seed.
Should Tennessee defeat Kentucky, it will give them a winning record against teams inside the top 25 of the RPI (4-3). Right now there are only 10 teams in all of college basketball who have a winning record against the top 25 of the RPI who have played at least two games against such opponents.
A victory in Lexington is far from a guarantee for the Vols. In fact, history says Tennessee will leave Rupp Arena with a loss tonight. But should they leave there with a win instead, then the Vols may just prove to the rest of the college basketball world that they belong in the conversation for a higher seed.