Since the SEC Tournament came back from a two-decade hiatus in 1979, the Vols have only won the tournament one time, and that was the first year it returned, all the way back in 1979. Since then, Tennessee hasn’t won the tournament a single time and has only made it to the finals three other times.
Last year, the Vols made it to the SEC Tournament Finals for the first time since 2009, and it marked only the fourth time the Vols made it that far since the tournament began again in 1979. The only other time the Vols made it to the finals besides 2018, 2009, and 1979 was in 1991.
Dating back to the original SEC Tournament that ran from 1933-52, the Vols have only ever made an appearance in the finals in back-to-back seasons once. That instance came in the 1936 and 1937 tournaments. Tennessee won the 1936 tournament and finished runner-up in the 1937 tournament.
All-time, Tennessee is 67-53 in the SEC Tournament, but they’re just 32-39 since the tournament came back in 1979.
So history isn’t on Tennessee’s side as they enter the 2019 SEC Tournament. But this year’s Tennessee’s team has shown that history means little to them in a multitude of ways.
This year’s Vol squad has already set numerous school records throughout the regular season, so why not do it again in the SEC Tournament? Well if oddsmakers are to be believed, then the Vols may actually do just that during this year’s SEC Tournament.
Before we continue, you can get a full look at the 2019 SEC Tournament and how it plays out for the Vols here.
According to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics, the Vols have the best chance of winning the 2019 SEC Tournament. Those metrics only slightly favor the Vols over Kentucky, giving Tennessee a 29.4 percent chance of winning the tournament compared to a 28.8 percent shot for Kentucky. But right now, the Vols are the favorite to win.
And KenPom isn’t the only one who thinks so.
TeamRankings.com also has Tennessee as an ever-so-slight favorite to take home the tournament title. They give the Vols a 29.1 percent shot at winning the SEC Tournament and Kentucky a 28.3 percent shot. Auburn comes in third with a 19.5 percent chance of winning while LSU has a 10.2 percent shot at getting the title.
Looking at Haslemetrics.com’s “all-play estimates” that predict the score of any one team matched up with another, the Vols are slight favorites to win the tournament there as well.
According to those estimates, the Vols would be favored to win on a neutral court against all the teams on their side of the bracket (Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Alabama, and Ole Miss). The Vols are projected to win by double-digits against Alabama, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt, but the estimates are a little closer for Mississippi State and Kentucky.
Against Mississippi State, the Vols’ most likely quarterfinal opponent on Friday, the Vols are favored to win by a score of 78.94 to 73.12 according to Haslemetrics. Against Kentucky, it’s even closer, and Tennessee is only barely a favorite in that game. The all-play estimates have the Vols narrowly winning by a statistical score of 71.74 to 71.57.
Essentially, if Tennessee and Kentucky face-off in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, it’ll be seen as a toss-up game.
Historically, the Vols have struggled mightily against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament. Tennessee is just 4-12 all-time against the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament, and they’ve lost the last four times they’ve played Kentucky in the tournament. In fact, UT’s last win against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament came in the finals in 1979, a 75-69 overtime victory.
If the Vols make it to the SEC Tournament Finals, their most likely opponents would be either LSU, Auburn, or South Carolina. Haslemetrics has the Vols winning by double-digits over South Carolina on a neutral court, and they have UT beating Auburn by a score of 79.26 to 74.57. Against LSU, Tennessee would be favored to win by a score of 82.06 to 75.23.
The Vols haven’t had much luck in the SEC Tournament over the years, but they managed to make it to the finals last season. Tennessee dropped down to the three-seed in the tournament this year after losing to Auburn in the regular season finale, but they’re currently the slight favorite to emerge as the tournament champions this year.
Time will tell if the projections prove true, but the Vols have already proven history wrong multiple times this year. Why not do it again?