NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee missed its shot at an SEC regular season championship but they can capture the SEC tournament title with three wins this weekend. That would be more than a consolation prize.
Tennessee began its quest for the title late Friday night against Mississippi State, beating them 83-76.
The Vols haven't won the tournament since 1979, forty years ago, the first year the tourney returned after a 26-year hiatus.
The Big Orange won the tournament three times prior to that, in 1936, 1941 and 1943.
Tennessee beat Mississippi State by 17 last Tuesday in Knoxville on senior night. Senior Admiral Schofield led the Vols with 18 points while Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander each pulled down ten rebounds.
Now that Tennessee blew past the Bulldogs again, they'll face Kentucky in the semifinals.
Most bracketologists have Kentucky as a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and the Vols as a two-seed right now. Tennessee could earn it's first no. 1 seed in the big dance by beating the Wildcats on Saturday.
The winner of Saturday's semifinal would move on to a 1 p.m. Sunday championship game against LSU, Florida, Auburn or South Carolina.
The tournament also gives Tennessee a chance to gain some momentum heading into the NCAA tourney and recover from last week's loss to Auburn.
You want to be playing your best basketball at this point in the season. One thing the Vols can correct from the Auburn loss is reducing the number of three-pointers they're taking and instead attacking the basket and drawing fouls.
Tennessee took an average of 25.9 threes and 17 free throws in its four losses and 18.9 threes and 21 free throws in its 27 wins.
Rick Barnes has one conference tournament championship in his career. That came in 1994 with Providence.