The way seeding and tiebreakers work for the SEC Tournament can be confusing. So we’re here to hopefully help clear up some of those muddy waters as it pertains to Tennessee’s potential seeding and match-ups in the upcoming 2020 SEC Tournament.
This year’s SEC Tournament begins on Wednesday, March 11th and runs through Sunday, March 15th in Nashville, TN. Seeds 11-14 play in the first round on Wednesday, and the second round is made up of those winners and seeds 5-10. The top four seeds in the SEC standings earn double-byes and won’t have to play till the quarterfinal round on Friday.
As it stands right now, Tennessee (17-13, 9-8 SEC) is tied with Texas A&M (15-14, 9-8) for seventh place in the SEC standings. But the Aggies have a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vols because of their 63-58 victory over Tennessee back on January 28th.
So as of right now, the Vols would be the eight-seed in the SEC Tournament, placing them up against current nine-seed Alabama on Thursday, March 12th at 1:00 PM Eastern.
But with one more SEC game remaining for all 14 conference teams, there’s still plenty of movement that can happen between now and the end of the day on Saturday.
Kentucky has the top seed locked up, and Vanderbilt has the 14-seed under wraps. But just about every other spot could see movement between now and the start of the SEC Tournament next week.
For the Vols, the best they could do would be the seven-seed, but they would finish no worse than eighth in the standings. Even if Tennessee beats No. 17 Auburn, Texas A&M loses to Arkansas, Mississippi State (10-7) loses to Ole Miss, and South Carolina (10-7) loses to Vanderbilt, the Vols wouldn’t be able to move up to the sixth seed due to tiebreakers.
If that scenario occurs, the Vols would be in a three-way tie with Mississippi State and South Carolina for fifth place in the SEC standings. If that arises, a three-team tie is broken in several ways and follows a procedural formula to figure out the seeding.
The first way to break the tie between the three teams would be to determine the best winning percentage of games played among the tied teams. The Vols are 1-2 against MSU and SC, while the Bulldogs are 2-1 against UT and SC, and the Gamecocks are 2-2 against MSU and UT. In this case, Mississippi State would be the five-seed, South Carolina would be the six-seed, and Tennessee would be the seven-seed.
If Tennessee loses to Auburn on Saturday, they’ll be guaranteed the eight-seed. Even if Alabama defeats Missouri on the road on Saturday and ends the regular season with the same conference record as UT, the Vols own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Tide thanks to a 69-68 victory in Tuscaloosa.
Should the Vols win against the Tigers and Texas A&M loses to Arkansas, the Vols will get the seven-seed and will be matched up against the 10-seed on Thursday, March 12th at 7:00 PM Eastern. Right now, the 10-seed is projected to be Arkansas, but if the Razorbacks beat the Gamecocks and Alabama loses to Missouri, then the Tide will slip to the 10-seed.
If the Vols end up as the eight-seed, they’ll be matched up with the nine-seed on Thursday at 1:00 PM Eastern. That nine-seed could either be Alabama or Arkansas depending on the results of their games as mentioned above.
Either way, Tennessee will be facing either Alabama or Arkansas on Thursday, but the big difference would be who UT would face in the quarterfinals should they win their first game.
As the eight-seed, the Vols would have to face one-seed Kentucky in the quarterfinals if they win on Thursday. As the seven-seed, the Vols would face the two-seed, which right now projects to be Auburn, though LSU or Florida could grab that spot as well.
So, to review: If Tennessee beats No. 17 Auburn, they need Texas A&M to lose to Arkansas to grab the seven-seed. But if the Aggies win, the Vols will be the eight-seed. If the Vols lose to Auburn, they’re automatically the eight-seed no matter what else happens.
Here’s a look at how the 2020 SEC Tournament bracket lays out and the times for each game in the tournament (all times on the graphic are Central):