Tennessee escaped from Kentucky 82-78 on Saturday in a SEC tournament semifinal that had significant implications for the seeding of NCAA tournaments.
The Volunteers (29-4, 15-3) and the Wildcats (27-6, 15-3) split their series of the regular season and were both projected in second place in the NCAA tournament (according to the parenthesis of USA TODAY Sports). Saturday.
Lamonte Turner of the Flights drained three decisive points with 31 seconds to play, and American Admiral Tennessee, Admiral Schofield (21 points) and Grant Williams (20 points) led the victory.
Tennessee and Kentucky were the only No. 2 to have sufficient qualifications to beat one of the currently projected No. 1 – Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Gonzaga – the latter two being the most vulnerable.
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Now, Tennessee are in the SEC Tournament Finals against Auburn on Sunday and are likely to take first place when the NCAA Committee unveils the top names on the night.
Volunteers have a great chance of overtaking Gonzaga or North Carolina, as they now have nine wins in Quad 1 to complete with a top 30 schedule. The Tar Heels have more victories in Q1 and better time force, but have also lost in a head-to-head duel against Kentucky, and their two biggest wins in Q1 have been against a Duke team without Zion Williamson.
In addition, three of the Tennessee defeats – against Kentucky, LSU and Auburn – were on the road, and an overtime loss to Kansas on Nov. 23 against a healthy Jayhawks version. Meanwhile, UNC lost to Texas – a team that will likely miss the NCAA Tournament – and has been beating at home against Louisville.