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How Tennessee’s SEC Tournament Top-Half Path is the Favorable Route

Rick Barnes
Tennessee HC Rick Barnes at the 2022 SEC Basketball Tournament. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

As the No. 5 seed in this week’s upcoming SEC basketball tournament in Nashville, the Tennessee Volunteers and head coach Rick Barnes will be on the top half of the bracket moving forward, in line with the overall No. 1 seed of the tournament, Alabama.

After Tennessee lost to Auburn in the regular season finale, the Vols were locked into a seed outside the top four. Missouri, the four-seed in the tournament, has the tiebreaker over Tennessee with the win back in February.

Vanderbilt and Tennessee both finished with a 11-7 conference record and split the two series meetings, but the Vols received the nod over the ‘Dores because of Tennessee’s win over Alabama.

So, ultimately, that’s how Tennessee ended up as the five-seed in the tournament. And by looking at the bracket, that’s certainly the side that favors Tennessee more.

While there were a number of factors that played into the regular season win-loss record, Tennessee did have an easier time with the teams in the top half of the bracket than the bottom.

Overall, Tennessee went 6-2 for a .750 winning percentage against the six teams in the top half of the bracket. That includes a 1-0 record against Ole Miss, 2-0 against South Carolina, 2-0 against Mississippi State, 0-1 against Florida, 1-0 against Alabama, and 0-1 against Missouri.

Now, it’s unlikely that Tennessee will wind up facing Mississippi State or Florida, but crazier things have happened. Texas A&M ran to the championship game as the eight-seed last year proving that it can be done.

The bottom half of the bracket was tougher on Tennessee throughout the season. The Vols posted a 5-5 record against the seven teams in the bottom half, including 1-0 against LSU and Georgia, 1-0 against Arkansas, 1-1 against Auburn, 1-1 against Vanderbilt, 0-1 against Texas A&M, and 0-2 against Kentucky.

SEC Tournament
Tennessee’s record (in orange) against each SEC team from the 2022-2023 basketball regular season. Photo via SEC.
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Vanderbilt is a team that played Tennessee very closely throughout the season, even with one of their wins coming on a buzzer-beater after a rare defensive breakdown from the Tennessee defense. The games against Auburn and Kentucky, though, felt personal. Tennessee struggled with both of those teams in both matchups this season, including two forgettable games against the Wildcats. Texas A&M is also there and is one of the hottest teams in the country.

Meanwhile, going back up to the top side of the bracket, Alabama is still a juggernaut but has struggled a bit at times since the beginning of the Brandon Miller/Nate Oats controversy. The Tide will definitely want revenge on Tennessee for the loss back in Knoxville, but it’s at least a game that Tennessee has confidence that it can win.

There are still several factors at play here and it’s hard to go through all of them. The biggest, for instance, is that all but two of these games were played with Zakai Zeigler leading the Vols. Tennessee won’t have their All-SEC Second Team guard after suffering an ACL tear just two weeks ago.

Still, though, from purely a numbers perspective, Tennessee is in the right half of the bracket to potentially make a run.

And bettors think so, too.

Tennessee, as the five-seed, has the second-highest odds in the tournament according to DraftKings, Caesars, and BetMGM. The Vols only trail No. 1-seed Alabama on each.

The Tennessee Volunteers will tip off their SEC Tournament on Thursday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. ET against either No. 13 Ole Miss or No. 12 South Carolina. The game will be broadcasted to SEC Network.

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