Holly Warlick’s thoughts run more toward the importance of defense and rebounding these mid-March days.
Determining an NCAA tournament field is someone else's concern. So seeding drew merely a passing reply from the Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach between workouts last week.
“I think we’ll probably be a 3 (seed); that’s fine,” she said. “I’m good with that. I’m good with that.”
The Lady Vols (24-7) could do better when the 64 teams and their placement in the four regionals are revealed at 7 tonight on ESPN. The team will gather in the East Club at Neyland Stadium to have dinner and watch the tournament selection show.
Charlie Creme’s ESPN mock bracket supports Warlick’s thinking. As of Sunday, he had Tennessee as the No. 3 seed in the Norfolk (Va.) Regional. He projects No. 14 Albany as UT’s first-round opponent Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena. No. 6 Purdue and No. 11 Duquesne would play in the other first-round game, according to Creme.
Tennessee hasn’t been seeded lower than No. 2 since getting a No. 5 seed in 2009. The Lady Vols have received a No. 3 seed three times since the NCAA began sanctioning the tournament in 1982. Their last No. 3 seed came in 1997.
Warlick’s perspective likely has been influenced by the Lady Vols’ two losses in their final three games. They committed 31 turnovers and lost the regular season finale at Kentucky, 78-65. After beating Florida to start the SEC tournament last weekend at Gwinnett Arena, they squandered a 10-point lead in the second half and fell to eventual tournament champion Texas A&M in the semifinals, 66-62. Those results explain Warlick’s preoccupation with basketball essentials above all else.
While meeting with the media last Thursday at Pratt Pavilion, Warlick also was reminded of the preseason uncertainty surrounding the team. While two rounds of NCAA play already were on the schedule here, the Lady Vols still had to make the field.
“When we talked in August, they looked good on paper,” Warlick said. “But we hadn’t seen them together.”
The tournament selection committee has been afforded a broader view of Tennessee. The body of work assembled between the aforementioned viewpoints might have warranted consideration for a No. 2 seed.
RealtimeRPI.com has UT ranked seventh. With a strength of schedule rated No. 4, the Lady Vols have a .660 score, slightly ahead of eighth-place Kentucky (.658) and well in front of ninth-place Cal (.651).
Winning the SEC regular-season championship weighs in Tennessee’s favor, as does seven victories against ranked opponents.
Conversely, losses to Chattanooga and Missouri diminish UT’s resume. An 80-71 loss to Chattanooga in the Nov. 9 season opener, though, doesn’t do the same damage as originally thought. The Lady Mocs (29-3) swept the Southern Conference regular-season and tournament championships and have an RPI of 37. Chattanooga coach Wes Moore thinks that his team’s achievements mirror those of the 2003-04 season, when the Lady Mocs received a No. 10 seed.
“I feel the resume is pretty much the same,” he said. “Maybe beating Tennessee adds something to that.”
It didn’t help in ESPN’s mock bracket, which has slotted Chattanooga as a No. 12 seed in the Spokane (Wash.) regional.
Regarding the SEC, tournament projections have seven conference teams making the field. Along with Tennessee, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and LSU are projected NCAA worthy.