There is a tendency to overreact to single-game college basketball outcomes when we get to March, the greatest month on the sports calendar.
So because No. 5 Tennessee was dropped 84-80 on Saturday -- to an Auburn team that's been ranked 18th or better at KenPom the entire season -- there could be calls that the Vols have lost their chance at a No. 1 seed. I can't be that certain. It feels harsh. Knee-jerky.
Sure, Tennessee deserves a bump off the No. 1 line for now; CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm did just that in light of Auburn's impressive win and Kentucky will take the Vols' place as a No. 1 seed when his projected bracket is updated.
But most college basketball teams would have lost against Auburn with how well the Tigers played on this day. Because Tennessee lost Saturday to keep it from clinching a share of the SEC regular-season title and also lost for the third time in seven games, one gets the sense that many will fade, if not write off, the Vols. They've had some issues closing strong. That's inarguable.
But I'm holding my UT stock. Tennessee (27-4, 15-3 SEC) is still top-10 good and should still have hopes of getting back to No. 1 seed status so long as it wins the SEC Tournament. Remember, Auburn (22-9, 11-7) is a No. 8 seed in Palm's bracket, but could be a No. 5 or a No. 6 seed in eight days when we get to see the big bracket.
Let's pause for a bit of perspective here. There is no shame in dropping a game to the Tigers, who by virtue of their win against Tennessee landed a fourth consecutive victory and landed their biggest win of the season.
Tennessee's three losses since Feb. 16 have come:
- On the road against Kentucky, one of the 10 best teams in college basketball
- On the road against LSU, one of the 10 best teams in college basketball
- On the road against Auburn, one of the 25 best teams in college basketball
It's not as though UT has been tripped up by NIT-bound squads or basement dwellers in the SEC. In fact, there is no stronger combination of losses Tennessee could have had against three different teams in its league than road defeats against Kentucky, LSU and Auburn.
It's more possible than not that Tennessee takes a No. 2 seed on Selection Sunday, but I'll remind you that the Vols still have the fewest losses of any team in the SEC. Not just that: At 27-4, Tennessee has fewer losses than all teams in major conferences except these: Virginia, Houston, Gonzaga.
So Tennessee's still got a chance at landing the first No. 1 seed in program history, far as I can see the ever-shifting landscape across the top of the bracket. And for the Tennessee fans furious over this blown no-call basket interference situation, I get it. But there was plenty of time left in the game and you can't claim this missed call (it sure looks like Auburn touched the ball while it was above the cylinder) is what cost you the game.
While the no-call perpetuated the Vols' loss, Tennessee really got beat because it played a top-20 NET team on the road, committed eight more turnovers than Auburn and only made nine of its 28 attempts from 3-point range.
On that note, the concerns for the Volunteers should be less about the seed destination and more about perimeter shooting. Rick Barnes has not built a roster with a forte and flair for the deep ball, but if one of the best Tennessee teams in history wants to make history by reaching the first Final Four ever in men's hoops, guys like Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden will need to make a turn for the better soon.
Bone and Turner combined to be 3 of 16 from beyond the arc on Saturday. That's a yikes. And Bowden and Turner have made only 11 of their 68 attempts from 3-point range in Tennessee's last seven games. UT's record in that stretch: 4-3. Tennessee is making 35.2 percent of its 3-pointers but taking a 3-pointer on just 32 percent of its possessions, which is near the bottom of Division I.
This isn't the only reason the Vols have wobbled in February -- defensive rebounding is still sub-par -- but obviously Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield can't be tasked with carrying most of the load.
Wherever UT lands on March 17, the 3-point shooting and general scheme of attack from deep could be the determining factor was to whether this squad gets to Minneapolis.