The SEC should get a great number of teams into the NCAA Tournament this year. In past seasons, the SEC has struggled to get more than a small handful of teams into college basketball’s premier tournament. But this season, the SEC is as deep as it’s been in years.
Though the conference is expected to earn several berths into the tournament, it remains to be seen just how many of those SEC teams can make a legitimate run in the tournament. But one SEC coach thinks that Tennessee is the one team that’s best equipped to go on a deep run this year.
Seth Davis of The Athletic interviewed basketball coaches around the country and asked for their honest thoughts on other teams in their respective leagues. Davis gave these coaches anonymity so their opinions wouldn’t be tied back to them. And it allowed those coaches to be brutally honest, and in most cases that honesty took the form of negative remarks about teams.
But one opinion was overwhelmingly positive. And it was about Tennessee.
“They’re the team in our league that is best built for a deep run in the tournament because they can really guard you, they’ve got size in the post, they have a defensive presence, and their guards can make shots,” an anonymous SEC coach said about the Vols. “If they get bogged down in a physical game, they can win that. If they lose, they usually get out-rebounded.”
The SEC coach is spot on in his analysis of how Tennessee wins and loses games. The Vols have been out-rebounded in six of their seven losses this season with the lone exception coming in Tennessee’s 95-93 overtime loss to Arkansas. The Vols have a 6-3 record in games decided by five points or less this season and are 16-1 when they hold opponents to 65 points or less.
That’s not all the coach had to say about the Vols, though. He also praised Tennessee’s top two scorers.
“They go to Grant Williams in crunch times,” the coach stated. “(Admiral) Schofield is the X-factor. When he makes 3s and he’s scoring inside, they’re really tough to beat. You have to defend him one-on-one because he’s really good at passing out of double-teams.”
The coach would also go on to add that Tennessee doesn’t “get a lot of scoring from their point guard when (Jordan) Bone is in there” as his lone critique of the Vols.
Tennessee is currently 21-7 and 11-5 in SEC play as they head into Tuesday night’s match-up with Mississippi State. The Vols are 3-3 against teams ranked inside the top 25 of the RPI, and Tennessee is currently No. 12 in the RPI themselves. They haven’t lost to a team outside the top 70 of the RPI all season.
Right now, Joe Lunardi of ESPN has Tennessee as a No. 3 seed in the West region of the bracket, and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has the Vols as a No. 3 seed in the West region as well.
The Vols have never made it past the Elite Eight in school history. Tennessee has only made it that far once, and they fell by a single point to Michigan State 70-69 in 2010.