Tennessee's path to a Final Four

Tennessee basketball is preparing for the second weekend of the tournament with a Sweet Sixteen matchup against No. 3 Creighton.
NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice
NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

Tennessee basketball's path to its first Final Four in program history is a little clearer this week, but it isn't getting any easier. They could face the top two seeds remaining in the Midwest region this weekend in Detroit, Michigan, for a spot in the Final Four.

The Vols opened the tournament with +220 odds to make the Final Four as the representative from the Midwest region. They aren't far from that mark right now, with +210 odds to win their region. This places the Vols behind Purdue at +120 and in front of Creighton at +450 odds.

The Vols have not had much success historically in the Sweet Sixteen, but Rick Barnes and the Vols have been improving every year and come into this weekend with a great shot to take down the Creighton Bluejays.

Tennessee's defense has helped them get to this point in the postseason. Without the Vols' strong defensive performance in the second round, they might have left Charlotte with their season over. They will need another strong defensive showing in the Sweet Sixteen with Creighton's big three.

As noted by Will Warren, Tennessee and Creighton have been to 18 NCAA Tournaments since 1985, making one Elite Eight appearance each as a six seed. They both lost by one point to a five-seed. Both teams will be looking to make history and earn their second-ever trip to the Elite Eight.

If the Vols' defense can play another dominant game and the offense shows up, they can beat Creighton and advance to their second Elite Eight appearance in program history. If the Vols do win, they will face another tough opponent on Sunday.

Their opponent will be decided by the winner of No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 5 Gonzaga. The positive for fans is we will know who wins that game before Tennessee tips off. Gonzaga and Purdue will tip off at 7:39 PM ET on Friday night ahead of Tennessee's late-night game in Detroit.

A matchup against Purdue would pit two National Player of the Year finalists against each other in the Elite Eight. Dalton Knecht and Zach Edey are two of the best players, if not the best, in college basketball. They play two very different styles, but watching them go head-to-head with a spot in the Final Four on the line would be a lot of fun.

Tennessee has some recent history with Purdue, including a tournament matchup in 2019. Tennessee has a 2-4 record against Purdue and is on a two-game losing streak. The Vols lost the 2019 tournament game in overtime 99-94 and also lost earlier this season in Hawaii 71-67.

Seeing Gonzaga in the Elite Eight would set up another matchup between the Bulldogs and the Vols. Gonzaga has the worst odds to make it out of the Midwest region at +500 odds, but that shouldn't discount their team, especially this deep into the tournament.

The Vols also have some experience playing Gonzaga, also going 2-4 all-time. The most recent game was in 2018, where the Vols won 76-73. They also won an exhibition game in 2022, 99-80, over the Bulldogs in Frisco, Texas.

That's Tennessee's path to its first Final Four in program history. If the Vols can run the gauntlet and beat the two of the best teams remaining in the tournament, they will face Houston, Marquette, Duke, or Marquette from the South region.