Tennessee hasn’t won the SEC Tournament since 1979. In fact, the Vols have had some of the worst luck in the tournament over the last four decades. The Vols have failed to win a game 16 times over their last 38 tournament appearances since winning in 1979, and they’ve only made it back to the finals twice in that span.
But this year’s Vol squad looks different than many of the ones who came before them. And one well-known college basketball writer has faith they can win their first tournament title in 39 years.
Chris Dortch, Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor/publisher and contributor to The Athletic, wrote up his preview of the SEC Tournament for The Athletic on Tuesday. And he believes the Vols have what it takes to bring home the SEC Tournament title.
“Tennessee doesn’t have a ton of size, and its guard play has been inconsistent,” Dortch writes, “but the Vols are the best defensive team in the league and are tougher than calculus. When they run their offense patiently, usually through 6-7 sophomore Grant Williams, they can score enough to win on most nights.”
Dortch goes on to write that if Auburn hadn’t lost Anfernee McLemore for the season in mid-February, he would expect them to win the tournament title. But since the Tigers are without one of their best players, Dortch believes the Vols are the team who will end up with the championship.
“Rather than talk about what the Vols don’t have, better to discuss the qualities they do have that would allow them to win three games in three days,” Dortch states. “They’re deeper and tougher than they’ve been in decades, even during the successful Bruce Pearl era.
“They’ve got 3-point shooters. And in Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, they’ve got two undersized — or oversized, depending on how you look at it — forwards/battering rams who can exert their will and carry Tennessee to victory.”
The Vols are at their best this season when either Williams or Schofield are on top of their games. Tennessee is a perfect 6-0 this season when Schofield scores 20 or more points, and they’re 6-2 when Williams does the same. And Tennessee is 2-0 when both players score 20-plus points in the same game.
Schofield was a big reason the Vols were able to close out the season on a four-game winning streak. He averaged 22 points, 6.3 rebounds, and shot 50.8 percent from the field during the Vols’ final four games of the season.
And it’s because of his recent hot play that Dortch believes Schofield is the Vols’ x-factor in the tournament.
“Hard to believe that Schofield barely played at the beginning of the year,” Dortch writes. “But once he and Rick Barnes came to an understanding, he became one of the most valuable players in the SEC, especially after the 6-4, 240-pound junior was moved to a wing position.”
The Vols won’t play till Friday in the SEC Tournament because of the double-bye they earned as the No. 2 seed. They will face the winner of the LSU-Mississippi State contest at 7 PM Eastern on Friday.