Following Thursday's 54-46 loss at Alabama, Tennessee's already troubling season took another turn in the wrong direction. The Crimson Tide hadn't beaten the Lady Vols since 1984, and Thursday marked Tennessee's second consecutive loss to a sub-100 RPI opponent.
At 16-12 overall and 7-8 in the SEC, Tennessee has lost four of its past six games. It is in a position most probably can't ever recall: in danger of missing the NCAA tournament.
The latest bracketology projection, through Thursday's games, still has the Lady Vols in as the final No. 9 seed, or No. 36 overall. The résumé still possesses a few positives: the No. 1 strength of schedule, four top-50 wins (which is more than any other team on the bubble except for Villanova), a top-35 RPI, and a win over projected No. 2 seed Oregon State (it's the best win of any team on the bubble save for Minnesota's victory over Ohio State on Wednesday).
But the negatives -- the play as of late and the overall performance in the SEC -- might ultimately outweigh anything else. The Lady Vols' lowest seed in NCAA tournament history was as a No. 5 in 2009.
With some basketball left to be played, including next week's SEC tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, here is a look at what would help put the Lady Vols on the list of 64 teams come Selection Monday -- and what would push them out for the first time ever.
The Lady Vols extinguish the bad feeling from the past week, rally on senior day at Thompson-Boling Arena behind seniors Bashaara Graves and Nia Moore, and beat Georgia. Then they knock off Auburn in the No. 8/9 seed game of the SEC tournament.
Result: That would be enough to put them in the field as a No. 8 seed. If Tennessee was able to add an upset of South Carolina in the SEC semis, we would likely need to adjust that seed to a No. 7, keeping in mind that other results around the country could have just as much impact on the seed of Tennessee or any team. The loss to Alabama all but sealed Tennessee's ceiling as a No. 8 without a big run in Jacksonville.
The Lady Vols are able to beat Georgia, but lose to Auburn to finish 17-13 heading into Selection Monday.
Result: This still keeps Tennessee in the field, but probably as a No. 9 or No. 10 seed. Beating the Bulldogs would be a solid win, but the committee won't forget that Georgia no longer has second-leading scorer Shacobia Barbee. This would also likely be the case should those results reverse. Beating Auburn in either scenario also gives Tennessee that opportunity to play South Carolina. That wouldn't hurt unless the Lady Vols were absolutely blown out.
The Lady Vols continue the downward spiral and lose each of their next two games, to Georgia at home and to Auburn on Thursday in Jacksonville.
Result: That would end Tennessee's chances and its run of appearances in every NCAA women's tournament ever played. Two more losses to finish the season would mean a 16-14 overall record, 7-10 in the SEC, and a four-game losing streak.
It's possible the Lady Vols might not be good enough to make it when the dust settles in the rest of the country anyway, but losses in their next two games would give them no chance of reaching the NCAA tournament.