Tennessee basketball still has realistic road to SEC Regular Season Championship

Feb 22, 2022; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Tennessee Volunteers players celebrate after a score against the Missouri Tigers during the second half at Mizzou Arena. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 22, 2022; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Tennessee Volunteers players celebrate after a score against the Missouri Tigers during the second half at Mizzou Arena. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

Saturday’s loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks seemingly ended any hope for Tennessee basketball to capture at least a share of the SEC title for the regular season. However, on that same day, the Vols got a huge break when the Auburn Tigers were stunned by the Florida Gators.

Now, on the heels of their win at the Missouri Tigers Tuesday, it’s safe to say the Vols still have a realistic shot at the championship and even securing a top seed in the SEC Tournament. A lot of things have to go right, but they are all possible.

Right now, at 20-7 overall and 11-4 in SEC play, Tennessee basketball has two more conference losses than Auburn, one more loss than Kentucky and is tied with Arkansas for third place in the league. Technically, the Hogs would get the No. 3 seed since they have the head to head tiebreaker at the moment.

However, the Vols get to face Auburn at home this weekend. A week after that, they get a rematch with Arkansas at home. Rick Barnes’ team, ranked No. 17 in both polls, hasn’t lost a game at home all year. They’ve got two wins already against teams in the top six of both polls, Kentucky and the Arizona Wildcats.

In between those two games, they visit the Georgia Bulldogs, who are far and away the worst team in the SEC at 6-22 overall and 1-14 in the SEC. Taking that into account, UT winning its final three games is already a realistic expectation. They’ll probably be favored in all three.

If that happened, regardless of anything that happened elsewhere, the Vols would finish ahead of Arkansas and no more than one game behind Auburn and Kentucky. Now comes the difficult part. Tennessee basketball would need both those teams to lose somewhere.

Fortunately for the Vols, Kentucky has to visit that same red-hot Arkansas program this Saturday whose only loss the past 13 games is by one point on the road to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Right now, Eric Musselman’s team would likely be the favorite in that game.

Should that happen and UT win out, than the Vols and Wildcats will at least be tied for second. Funny enough, if you value tiebreakers for championships, the Vols would win that too if all the things we mentioned so far happened, and oddsmakers in Vegas would likely bet on all of them.

That’s because the SEC Tournament tiebreaker for seeding starts with head-do-head. UT and John Calipari’s team split with that. The next tiebreaker would involve record against the highest other seed. Well, in this case, it would most likely be Auburn or Arkansas, and UK would finish 0-1 against both while UT was 1-1 against the Hogs and 1-0 against Auburn.

So if everything that’s expected to happen happens, Tennessee basketball finishes ahead of Kentucky. How do they catch Auburn, though, even if they win? Well, Auburn visits the Mississippi State Bulldogs four days after visiting Rocky Top.

UT is the only SEC team all year to beat MSU in Starkville. Ben Howland’s team is better than the Florida team that just beat Auburn, and they have a tougher arena with much louder basketball fans, so yes, it’s very possible for Auburn to lose that game.

At that point, Rocky Top and Auburn would be locked in a three-way tie at the end of the year. They would have all earned a share of the SEC Championship. However, the Vols would be the one to receive the top seed, as the tiebreaker in a three-way tie is who has the best record against the other two opponents.

Laying out all these possibilities, the Vols would have the best record against their other two opponents at 2-1, as they would be 1-0 against Auburn and 1-1 against Kentucky. Auburn would be 1-1 overall, 0-1 against UT and 1-0 against UK. The Wildcats would be 1-2, 1-1 against UT and 0-1 against Auburn.

Five Vols who won the most. dark. Next

Auburn losing to Mississippi State is the only unlikely outcome in a vacuum that Tennessee basketball fans need to wish for to win the SEC Championship. Based on that fact, Vol fans have a lot of games to watch over the next week and a half. The regular season title could still be theirs.