Tennessee baseball capped off an unsuccessful first half of SEC play by going winless in its three-game series at Arkansas last weekend. The issues that have plagued Tennessee all season showed up again in Fayetteville and now the Vols’ back is against the wall with five weekends left in the regular season.
Tennessee’s hopes of hosting a regional are over. At 5-10 in SEC play, Tennessee needs to play very well the back half of conference play to even make the NCAA Tournament.
So what does the Vols’ path to the NCAA Tournament look like?
Getting to 14 conference wins is the key to making the tournament. That’s how many win Ole Miss had last season and Tennessee had in 2019 when both teams didn’t win a game in the SEC Tournament and made the NCAA Tournament.
Going 14-16 doesn’t make you an absolute lock to make the NCAA Tournament but it puts you in a good spot. There have been two SEC teams in the last decade that made the NCAA Tournament with 13 wins— Texas A&M in 2013 and again in 2018.
The Aggies went 13-16 with a cancelled game in 2013 and won three games to make the SEC Tournament Semifinal in 2018 to make the NCAA Tournament.
It’s not impossible to make the tournament with 13 conference wins, but it is very unlikely.
More From RTI: Tony Vitello Worries About His Team’s Toughness
The first half of Tennessee’s SEC schedule was extremely difficult and it does lighten up the back half of conference play. But not by a ton. The Vols need to go 9-6 down the stretch to reach the 14 conference wins mark.
Tennessee’s four week gauntlet comes to an end after this weekend but first the Vols host Vanderbilt at Lindsey Nelson Stadium for a three game series. The reality is Tennessee needs to win every home series left on its schedule.
After facing Vanderbilt this weekend the Vols host Mississippi State and faces Kentucky in its final home series. The Wildcats are much improved this season and play a style that could capitalize on Tennessee’s defensive shortcomings.
If Tennessee takes two out of three in its final home series then they have to go 3-3 in its final two road series— trips to Georgia and South Carolina. The Gamecocks are perhaps the SEC’s biggest surprise this season and are one of the best teams in the conference. Georgia is near the bottom of the conference but the Vols are 1-10 in true road games this season. Expecting them to easily win the weekend series at Georgia is foolish.
In my estimation, Tennessee desperately needs to sweep one of the Mississippi State or Kentucky series. That’s not an easy task either but the Vols stealing an extra win at home and going 7-2 feels like their best hope of making the NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee’s chances to make the NCAA Tournament aren’t over yet but the Vols’ back is against the wall and there’s no more room for error.