Every Scenario for Vols’ SEC Title Hopes on Saturday

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    For Tennessee, Saturday’s match-up with Auburn presents a lot of different scenarios that could play out.

    The No. 5 Vols (27-3, 15-2 SEC) take on Auburn (21-9, 10-7 SEC) at Auburn Arena for a noon Eastern tip-off on Saturday for their regular season finale. Tennessee is playing for at least a share of the SEC regular season title and potentially a No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament, and Auburn is trying to get the final double-bye of the tournament and finish in fourth place in the conference.

    If the Vols win on Saturday, things are pretty straightforward for them. But if they lose, how far could they fall in the standings and in the SEC Tournament seeding?

    Here’s a look at every possible scenario for the Vols on Saturday.

    If the Vols Win…

    It’s pretty simple for Tennessee if they win. If they defeat Auburn on Saturday, they’ll be guaranteed at least a share of the SEC regular season title and will be no worse than the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament. The rest of their fate is tied up in what LSU does later on Saturday night.

    LSU takes on last-place Vanderbilt at home on Saturday night. It should be an easy win for the Tigers, but now with head coach Will Wade being suspended indefinitely amid the FBI wiretap reports, who knows what kind of headspace LSU’s team is in. Vanderbilt is still winless in SEC play, and they could be extra motivated to try and get at least one conference victory. But they did just lose by 36 to Arkansas on Senior Night in Nashville, so maybe not.

    If both LSU and Tennessee win, the two teams will finish tied atop the regular season standings, and they’ll split the regular season title. But because the Tigers beat the Vols in their head-to-head match-up this season, they’ll get the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament.

    If the Tigers lose, however, then Tennessee will be awarded the regular season title outright and will have the top seed in the SEC Tournament.

    Vol fans will have to wait late into the night to see what the Tigers do, though. They won’t tip-off with Vanderbilt until 8:30 PM Eastern.

    If the Vols Lose…

    Things get interesting if Tennessee loses to Auburn on Saturday.

    If the Vols fail to beat the Tigers, then they could potentially finish as low as third place in the SEC standings. If Tennessee loses and LSU wins, then the Tigers are outright regular season champs. If LSU also loses along with the Vols, then those two teams will remain tied atop the standings.

    What really makes this scenario interesting is Kentucky.

    The Wildcats are just a game back from both the Tigers and Vols, and if they beat Florida at Rupp Arena on Saturday and both LSU and Tennessee lose, then there will be a three-way tie for first place in the conference. In that scenario, LSU would still own the head-to-head tiebreakers over both the Vols and Wildcats since they defeated both teams this season.

    For Tennessee and Kentucky, however, it’s not as simple.

    The Vols and Wildcats split their season series, which means they must move to a second tiebreaker to determine who will get the No. 2 seed and who will get the No. 3 seed in this scenario. According to the SEC, the next tiebreaker after the head-to-head tiebreaker is the “won-lost record of the two teams versus the No. 1 seed (and proceeding through the No. 14 seed, if necessary).”

    Both Kentucky and Tennessee were 0-1 against LSU, the No. 1 seed in this case. The two teams are the No. 2 and No. 3 seed, so we move next to the No. 4 seed and the Vols and Wildcats’ records against that team. And right now, the No. 4 seed has yet to be determined.

    Depending on which team is the No. 4 seed, the Vols could finish ahead of Kentucky or behind them. If Tennessee loses to Auburn, there’s a good chance the Tigers move to the fourth spot in the standings, but that’s not guaranteed. The Tigers are currently tied with South Carolina for the four-seed, and the Gamecocks own a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Tigers. So if both Auburn and South Carolina win on Saturday, then the Gamecocks are the four-seed in the SEC Tournament.

    Both UT and UK were undefeated against South Carolina this season. So we move on to the No. 5 seed, which would be Auburn in this case. And Kentucky beat Auburn twice this season, and the Vols would’ve lost their only match-up with the Tigers in this scenario, meaning Kentucky would be the No. 2 seed and the Vols would be the No. 3 seed.

    In short, if Tennessee loses and Kentucky wins, then the Vols will be the three-seed regardless of what LSU does.

    So…What Happens?

    Tennessee has never won at least a share of the SEC regular season title in back-to-back seasons ever. The Vols have been in the SEC since the 1932-33 season, but never in program history have they won the regular season title in consecutive years. If Tennessee wins on Saturday, they’ll be the first UT squad to ever repeat as conference regular season champs.

    If the Vols lose, it become increasingly unlikely they’ll be able to get even a share of the regular season title. Tennessee has to win to guarantee at least a share, and there’s a slim chance they could get the outright title if LSU slips up. But a loss would be crushing, because it’s highly unlikely Kentucky will lose at home to Florida.

    It’s simple: Just win, baby. And the Vols have been doing a lot of that this season.

    You can take a look at the RTI team’s predictions for the Vols’ match-up with Auburn on Saturday right here.



    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.