USA TODAY Sports
The Volunteers are in the best position to help themselves.
Looking over the SEC Tournament bracket, however, shows that Big Orange got the best draw of anyone when it comes to building a resume that will solidify a team's position in the Big Dance.
The bubble is lousy with SEC teams this year. UT, Ole Miss, Alabama, Kentucky, and Arkansas are all hanging around the periphery of the tournament bracket. Should Tennessee beat the winner of South Carolina–Mississippi State—and boy, should it ever—the fifth-seeded Vols will take on Alabama. Right there, it's a chance to deliver a knockout blow to a fellow bubble team.
The Crimson Tide is already not seen as a viable tournament team, being in everyone's first or next four out, and winning no games in Nashville should probably eliminate the team from consideration. Tennessee had trouble with Bama in the regular season, losing by three on the road and winning by just one at home. It won't be easy to win that one, but it would be big.
If the Vols get past the Tide, the likely next opponent is the top-seeded Florida Gators. For a lot of teams, that would be a harbinger of death. Not for Tennessee. UT has won three straight against Billy Donovan's crew, including a 64-58 win on February 26. As previously discussed, a matchup with Florida is the biggest prize of the SEC Tournament. UT got to be on UF's side of the bracket, and Tennessee is a team that has had a lot of success against Florida of late.
If the Vols pick up another win over Florida, their dancing ticket should be secure. If somehow it's not, at that point they'd be in the tournament final. It would only take one more win to remove all doubt. The most likely potential opponents in that final are Missouri, Ole Miss, and Kentucky. Tennessee has already defeated two of those, although it did get swept by the Rebels in the regular season. A matchup with the guys from Oxford there would be bad news, but even that scenario presents the opportunity of beating a fellow bubble team.
It's almost certain that only the first of Tennessee's SEC Tournament games will provide them no boost in regards to making it into the NCAA Tournament. It will be by no means easy for a team as inconsistent as UT is to sweep through the bracket in Nashville; they're squarely on the bubble for a reason. Still, the Vols caught fire at the right time with eight wins in their last nine, and the tournament is close to home. No team has a better chance of improving its March Madness chances in the SEC Tournament than Tennessee does.