Tennessee’s men’s basketball team has never been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But this year, the Vols are not only making a run at getting a one-seed for the upcoming tournament, but they’re legitimately in the conversation for grabbing the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Dance.
Three different media outlets have updated their latest “bracketology” projections, and the Vols (19-1, 7-0 SEC) are a No. 1 seed in all of them. And they aren’t just sneaking in as the fourth-best No. 1 seed in the bracket, either.
Tennessee is ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches Poll right now, and they currently place fifth in the new NCAA “NET” rankings — which is a replacement for the RPI this year for the tournament selection committee.
And according to three different versions of NCAA bracketology, the Vols are working their way into a battle for the top overall seed in the the NCAA Tournament.
In both Joe Lunardi’s bracketology update on ESPN and Sports Illustrated’s end-of-January update for their bracketology, the Vols are projected as the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament, which would put them in the Midwest region of the bracket. Both Lunardi and Sports Illustrated have Duke as the top overall seed.
Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has Tennessee as the No. 3 overall seed, putting them as the top seed in the South region. Palm has Michigan as his top overall seed and Duke as the second-best No. 1 seed.
Tennessee is fifth in both the NET and RPI rankings, and their strength of schedule ranks 42nd in the country. All of that makes them a strong candidate to stay in the conversation for a No. 1 seed all the way through March.
According to TeamRankings.com, the Vols are projected to finish the regular season with a 27-4 overall record. Right now, Tennessee sits at 19-1 overall, with their only loss coming to then-No. 2 Kansas in overtime. TeamRankings.com gives Tennessee a 63 percent chance of earning a No. 1 seed, the third-highest percentage behind only Duke and Virginia.
Interestingly, TeamRankings.com has Michigan listed as a probable No. 2 seed despite Lunardi, Palm, and Sports Illustrated all having the Wolverines as a No. 1 seed.
Per the data compiled by the Bracket Matrix — a site that compiles data from 99 different NCAA Tournament bracket projections to give the best average seeding placement for each Division I team — the Vols are a No. 1 seed in 75.8 percent of the 99 brackets they’ve pulled information from. Tennessee is a No. 1 seed in 75 of the 99 brackets, and they’re a No. 2 seed in the other 24 brackets that don’t have them listed as a No. 1 seed.
Over the last 10 years, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament has won the national title twice, made it to at least the Final Four four times, and advanced to at least the Elite Eight six times. But the last two years have seen the No. 1 overall seed fall much earlier than expected. In 2017, Villanova lost in the second round to eight-seed Wisconsin, and last year Virginia became the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose in the first round to a 16-seed when UMBC downed them.
Tennessee has twice been a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they’ve never earned a No. 1 seed. The Vols were a No. 3 seed last season for the first time ever, and they got bounced in the second round by cinderella team Loyola-Chicago.