Harper- Ole Miss

Jan 28, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper during the first half against the Ole Miss Rebels at Thompson-Boling Arena. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The SEC Tournament is upon us, as the first round kicked off on Wednesday. The No. 14 Tennessee women’s basketball team earned the No. 3 seed in the SEC after posting a 15-6 overall record and a 9-4 conference record.

"It's this time of year,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said. “Everybody is excited. It doesn't matter what you did; it doesn't matter what you didn't do leading up to now. I know it's cliché, but every coach says it every year, 'Record is 0-0, everybody has a fresh start.' You get a new challenge in front of you. I fully expect this SEC Tournament to be competitive. Anything can happen. We're hoping to take a team over there that is ready to play and compete at a high level."

Let’s take a look at how Tennessee got here, what the seeds are and Tennessee’s path to a championship.

2020-21 SEC Season

The Lady Vols dominated the SEC throughout most of the year, winning nine games and losing four. They defeated three ranked opponents in then-No. 13 Arkansas, then-No. 12 Kentucky, and then-No. 2 South Carolina. Their ranked losses include then-No. 20 Kentucky, then-No. 6 Texas A&M and then-No. 16 Georgia, twice.

Tennessee opened up SEC play with an 88-73 win against Arkansas. Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell both dropped 26 points in their win against the Razorbacks, with the former adding 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals, while the latter contributed five rebounds, two steals and one assist.

The Lady Vols held one of the best offensive teams in the SEC to just 73 points on a 31.9% shooting percentage, including just four makes out of 14 attempts in the final stanza.

Tennessee’s greatest win of the season was against South Carolina. The Lady Vols vanquished the Gamecocks 88-73 at Thompson-Boling Arena off of the backs of three Lady Vols who finished the game in double figures.

Davis led the group with a double-double of 24 points and 12 rebounds. Burrell was next with 19 points, three assists, three steals and two boards. Jordan Horston rounded out the group with 12 points off of the bench and also contributed five assists.

SEC Tournament Seeding

No team wants to put their fate in the hands of other teams. The Lady Vols were able to avoid that stress during the final week of the season. Tennessee closed out the season with a perfect 2-0 week, as it defeated Missouri 78-73 and Auburn 88-54, helping it capture the No. 3 seed.

The top four seeds earned a two-round bye and will not play until Friday, March 5. Florida and Auburn opened up tournament play on Wednesday, March 3 and the winner will play Kentucky. Those second-round games start on Thursday, March 4. Saturday, March 6 is the semi-finals, while Sunday, March 7 will be the date of the championship game.

“And I don't care who you are. I don't care what city you are in. I don't care who you're playing; I don't care who you're not playing. If you're advancing, then you've really done something, because there is so much parity this year,” Harper said on the strength of the entire conference. “And a lot of times, it's about match-ups as much as it is about seeding and talent. It's about who do you match-up well, and you have got to figure it out. So, I think it's definitely shaping up to be an exciting tournament."

Path to Victory

Tennessee will battle either Arkansas or Ole Miss in the Quarterfinals this Friday at 8:30 p.m.

In the regular season, the Lady Vols defeated both of these teams at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee defeated Arkansas to kick off SEC play and the Lady Vols defeated the Rebels 68-67, for one of their many close games this year. However, despite beating both teams this season, Harper recognizes the changes that have gone on throughout the year.

"We have been worried about ourselves,” Harper said. “We have kind of put blinders on and worried about what we are doing. This last week has been about Tennessee, Missouri, and Auburn. But we paid attention. I was able to watch the Alabama/Arkansas game or the majority of it. So, we see how these teams are playing. We are trying to keep up with Ole Miss coming off a great win."

Ole Miss and Arkansas both had solid seasons offensively. The Rebels averaged 70.9 points and 4.4 three’s per game, while the Razorbacks averaged 84.0 points and 9.7 three-point makes per game.

If Tennessee can repeat their past successes, they will face either Missouri, Alabama, or South Carolina in the semi-finals. Alabama and Missouri will face-off in the second round to see who plays South Carolina in the quarterfinals.

The Lady Vols defeated all three of these teams in the regular season, as well. The best team of the bunch is unsurprising, South Carolina. The Gamecocks averaged 77.7 points per game throughout the season. They nail 4.3 three’s per game and knock down 14.7 attempts from the charity stripe. South Carolina also remained in the top-10 in the country throughout the entire season.

Missouri sports one of the best offenses in the conference, despite the sub .500 record. The Tigers averaged 74.8 points per contest and hit 7.6 three’s a game, which sits above average in the SEC.

Alabama also had one of the sneakier offenses in the SEC. The Crimson Tide tallied 75.0 points per game and made 14.4 attempts from the free-throw line. The Tide even finished with 8.3 three’s made per contest.

Trying to predict the championship game matchup would be difficult, but notable opponents the Lady Vols could face include Texas A&M, Georgia and Kentucky. Tennessee finished the regular season with a 1-4 record against these teams, losing both matches against Georgia and splitting against Kentucky.

The Aggies sport the better offense compared to the other two programs. Texas A&M finished with 75.4 points per game, 4.9 three’s made per contest, and 15 shots hit from the charity stripe. Georgia and Kentucky were fairly similar. The Bulldogs averaged 72.4 points per game and 11.9 free throws per game, while the Wildcats recorded 73.4 per contest and 11.2 free throws per game. Kentucky had a sizable advantage in three’s compared to Georgia, it made 7.3 per game compared to Georgia’s 4.7 per match.

Tennessee’s quarterfinal matchup is at approximately 8:15 p.m. ET on Friday, March 5, in Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina.

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