After stumbling down the stretch of the season and without their starting point guard, faith in Tennessee basketball advancing in the NCAA Tournament has dwindled. However, the Vols’ draw might save them.
At 23-10, UT earned a No. 4 seed in March Madness, revealed on the CBS Selection Sunday show. The Vols will face the No. 13 seed Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in the first round Thursday night. Louisiana comes in at 26-7 and Sun Belt Tournament champions.
Now, Tennessee basketball is certainly in danger of being upset in the first round. However, the bracket they are in also opens the door for an Elite Eight run if some things break their way.
Should the Vols get past Louisiana, they will face the winner between the No. 5 seed Duke Blue Devils and the No. 12 seed Oral Roberts Golden Eagles. Obviously, Duke is the favorite there, but this isn’t your father’s Duke.
Under first-year head coach Jon Scheyer in the post-Mike Krzyzewski era, Duke is 26-8. True, they are on a nine-game winning streak and just won the ACC Tournament championship, but they’ve been up and down all year.
Also, winning a tournament title means very little nowadays, and it could actually mean the Vols are a lot fresher when they face Duke. Lucky for them, lots of teams in their bracket were playing on Saturday or Sunday.
The No. 1 seed in the bracket are the Purdue Boilermakers, probably the worst No. 1 seed out there. Purdue rivals Tennessee basketball when it comes to a defensive focus, so that would be the most boring game ever.
Still, it’s one Rocky Top could win, and they could get revenge for that loss in the Sweet 16 back in 2019. This team was also playing on Sunday, and nobody thinks they’re as good as the Alabama Crimson Tide or Houston Cougars.
If they don’t face Duke, they’ll face the No. 8 seed Memphis Tigers or No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic Owls. The Vols match up well with both, and while FAU played on Saturday, Memphis played on Sunday.
No, the winner of the No. 16 seed play-in game between the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights and Texas Southern Tigers will not reach the Sweet 16 to face UT. Don’t worry about them.
Another advantage, though, is that Tennessee basketball plays the first weekend in Orlando and is closer to there than anybody they will face. The next weekend’ games are in New York, and nobody they would face is near there.
Simply put, the Vols don’t have to deal with any road-court disadvantage, and they could have a home crowd during the first weekend. That’s a good spot to be in.
Does any of this mean Tennessee basketball will make a run? No. They could easily lose on Thursday, and given Rick Barnes’ track record, that seems borderline likely. However, if they do win, don’t be surprised if they go far.