By Jimmy Hyams
Tennessee is still ranked No. 1 in both the AP and coaches’ polls, but Duke has made up ground thanks to a impressive Saturday night win over Virginia.
Duke also took the top spot as the No. 1 overall seed by the NCAA selection committee, released last week.
It’s unlikely both the Blue Devils and Vols will win out, but if both do, can Tennessee overtake Duke in the minds of the committee and garner that No. 1 overall seed?
Each team has eight games left, most against quality opponents. And each plays an NCAA NET resume’ killer.
Tennessee takes on No. 124 Vanderbilt and Duke faces No. 196 Wake Forest. I don’t know how much you’re penalized for playing teams outside the top 100 or if the committee sees a big difference in 124 and 196.
But taking those two duds out of the equation, the NET average for Tennessee and Duke is similar.
Tennessee will face No. 5 NET Kentucky twice along with LSU (17), Auburn (20), Mississippi State (29), Ole Miss (50) and South Carolina (79) for an average of 29.29.
Duke plays North Carolina (9) twice, along with Virginia Tech (14), Louisville (15), North Carolina State (35), Syracuse (48) and Miami (88) for an average of 31.14.
If Duke was indeed the No. 1 overall seed and Tennessee was 1A – as the committee suggested — then a small edge in strength of schedule down the stretch could push the Vols ahead of Duke.
But Duke has a clear edge in games against NET top 25 and top 50. The Blue Devils are 6-1 v. NET Top 25 while Tennessee is 2-1. Duke is 9-2 against NET top 50 while UT is 5-1.
It might help the Vols that they beat both common opponents (Gonzaga and Louisville) while Duke lost to Gonzaga while beating Louisville.
Tennessee needs to shore up its rebounding — the last two opponents have garnered 29 offensive rebounds — and also avoid in-game lapses on offense and defense.
But it Duke shoots well from 3-point range — it made 13 against Virginia — the Blue Devils might be unbeatable.
Either way, it should be a fun February.