Bracketology: Can Vols Sneak into 2020 NCAA Tournament?

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    Tennessee’s 2019-20 season has taken many twists and turns, and we’ve just now reached the halfway point of the season.

    The Vols began the season just outside the top 25 of the AP Poll, but they climbed to as high as No. 17 after a strong start to the season that saw them defeat then-No. 20 Washington en route to a 5-0 start.

    Since then, though, Tennessee’s season has been a roller coaster, and the Vols have gone 5-5 in their last 10 contests and have lost one of their most significant contributors in starting point guard Lamonte Turner. The redshirt senior guard elected to have season-ending shoulder surgery after UT’s 75-53 victory over Jacksonville State, and the Vols’ offense has struggled mightily over the last four games without Turner in the lineup.

    The addition of four-star point guard Santiago Vescovi as a mid-year enrollee right at the start of SEC play has provided a bit of a boost to Tennessee, but the Vols’ offense has continued to look pedestrian even with the defense playing exceptionally well.

    Right now, Tennessee sits at 10-5 on the season and 2-1 in SEC play. The Vols own victories over three teams in the top 60 of the Ken Pomeroy rankings — Washington (45th), VCU (47th), and Missouri (54th) — and all five of UT’s losses are against teams in the top 50 of the KenPom rankings.

    But three of those five losses have come by double digits, and the Vols scored less than 60 points in three of their five losses as well.

    When the Vols have been bad, they’ve been really bad. But when they’ve been good, they’ve been able to beat some good teams. So, where does that leave them midway through the season with March only a month and a half away? Are the Vols good enough to make it to this year’s NCAA Tournament?

    According to TeamRankings.com, Tennessee has a 61.7 percent chance of making the 2020 NCAA Tournament. The Vols are projected as a 12-seed by the Team Rankings model. Those projections give UT a 14.1 percent shot of being a 12-seed, a 10.4 percent chance of being an 11-seed, and an 8.0 percent shot of being a 10-seed.

    Team Rankings projects Tennessee’s final regular season record to be around 18-13. The Vols have an 18.2 percent chance of finishing with that record per their projections, and they have a 17.9 percent shot of going 17-14. The Vols are projected to finish 10-8 in SEC play and are given just a 1.6 percent chance of winning the regular season SEC title.

    The Bracket Matrix is a site that compiles data from several dozen NCAA Tournament projections all across the web to get an average seed placement for each team. Per the Bracket Matrix, the Vols are currently in the “next four out” group, only appearing in 10 of the 70 brackets they’ve gotten data from.

    In the 10 brackets the Vols have been projected in, Tennessee has an average seed of 10.9, with the highest coming from Bracket Bingo (9-seed) and with two brackets projecting the Vols as a 12-seed.

    Tennessee has made the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, making it to the second round in the 2018 tournament and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in last year’s tournament. The Vols haven’t made it into the NCAA Tournament in three-straight seasons since making it to the Big Dance for six-straight years from 2006-11, all under then-head coach Bruce Pearl.

    If the Vols are to make it to this year’s tournament, their offense will have to pick themselves up while the defense continues to play well. Tennessee is only allowing 59.3 points a game, which is the 10th-best average in all of Division I basketball. But their offense is averaging just 66.3 points a contest, which ranks 302nd out of 353 Division I teams.