Tennessee has enjoyed a lot of success on the hardwood in recent years, but it still has some first-time goals it’s hoping to accomplish in 2024.

In addition to never reaching the Final Four, Tennessee has never been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There have been several near-misses — the Vols have been a No. 2 seed on 3 occasions, including in 2019 under current head coach Rick Barnes. Bruce Pearl led the program in the other 2 instances. However, UT failed to get past the Sweet 16 in any of those Tournaments.

Now, entering Wednesday night’s game against Auburn, Tennessee has a legitimate chance to get to the top line for the first time ever. Let’s break down the Vols’ résumé and a few different bracketology projections:

Tennessee’s résumé is strong

Here’s a breakdown of the Vols’ résumé as of Tuesday evening:

  • Overall record: 21-6
  • SEC record: 11-3
  • NET ranking: 5th
  • KenPom ranking: 6th
  • Quad 1 record: 5-5
  • Quad 2 record: 6-1
  • Quad 3 and 4 record: 10-0
  • NET Strength of Schedule: 26th

Tennessee’s lack of a bad loss and 5 Quad 1 wins are its biggest assets right now as the calendar approaches March. The Vols have been dominant in SEC play, particularly at home where they have just 1 loss so far this season.

Looking ahead, Tennessee has several golden opportunities to add to its résumé and help get closer to 1-seed status. The Vols will close the year with 4 consecutive games against Quad 1 opponents. There’s a good chance they’ll face at least 1 more Quad 1 team in the SEC Tournament as well.

What the bracketologists are saying right now

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi updated his bracket projection on Tuesday and has the Vols as a No. 2 seed. Purdue, Houston, UConn and Arizona are all on the top line, just ahead of the Vols. The Boilermakers, Cougars and Huskies are all consensus picks to be a 1-seed with just a couple weeks left before Selection Sunday. However, that final spot figures to be tightly-contested between Tennessee, Arizona and several other teams.

Lunardi is unquestionably the most well-known bracketologist, but there are others in the industry who are considered more accurate on a year-to-year basis. The BracketMatrix tracks performance for over 170 bracketologists, and Lunardi ranks in the middle-of-the-pack over the past 5 years. However, in this case, the top 3-ranked bracketologists over that span also currently have Arizona beating out Tennessee for the final 1-seed.

What about future projections?

This is where Tennessee fans might find some encouragement as it relates to its No. 1 seed chances. BartTorvik’s TourneyCast model ranks teams based on end-of-season projections (as opposed to a prediction of what the bracket would look like if the season ended today). According to BartTorvik, the Vols currently have the 4th-best odds to get to the top line at 42.1%. Arizona is just behind Tennessee at 41.6%, however, so it’s a relative coin-flip between the Wildcats and Vols.

It’s also worth noting that KenPom is projecting Tennessee to win 3 of its final 4 regular season games, which would give the Vols a 8-6 record against Quad 1 opposition. It’s probably overstating things to say the Vols control their own destiny in pursuit of a No. 1 seed, but it’s hard to imagine keeping the Vols off the top-line if they were able to close the season in that manner.

If it’s Tennessee vs. Arizona for the final 1-seed, who has the edge?

Tennessee does have a couple of key advantages over Arizona. For one thing, the Wildcats may not play another Quad 1 game the rest of the season. They’re 7-3 in those contests so far this year, which is currently a better mark than what Tennessee has been able to accomplish. But they aren’t scheduled to face another Quad 1 team during the regular season and might not play one in the Pac-12 Tournament either. Currently, only Colorado and Washington State would be considered a Quad 1 opponent on a neutral floor.

Arizona also has a Quad 3 loss, which Tennessee almost certainly won’t have to deal with on Selection Sunday. The Wildcats picked up that defeat back in January when they lost to last-place Oregon State. Arizona already has 4 Pac-12 losses this season — a pretty high number considering the Pac-12 may only have 1 other NCAA Tournament teams this year (Utah and Colorado are currently on the wrong side of the bubble, per Lunardi).

All-in-all, there seems to be a very reasonable path for Tennessee to earn a spot as a 1-seed for the first time in program history. Its work down the stretch will begin on Thursday night against Auburn at 7 p.m. ET. Fans who are interested in betting on that game can do so by signing up with one of Saturday Down South’s recommended Tennessee online sportsbooks.