UT battling for NCAA bid

Tennessee's hopes of landing an NCAA Tournament bid may hinge on two things: (1) The Vols holding serve at home while stealing one or two road games. (2) Vanderbilt and Georgia losing a home game or two apiece.

Two teams from the SEC East – top-ranked Florida (23-2 overall, 10-0 SEC) and tradition-rich Kentucky (18-6, 7-3) – already are locks for NCAA Tournament bids. That might leave UT battling Vanderbilt and Georgia for two invitations to The Dance. One of the three will be left out, unless the NCAA Selection Committee is willing to extend bids to five of the six SEC East teams.

Vanderbilt (16-8 overall) is in the best position of the three. The Commodores are 4-0 in SEC home games, 2-4 in SEC road games and 6-4 overall. If they merely win their remaining home games, they will finish no worse than 10-6 in league play.

Georgia (14-9) may have the next-best shot at an NCAA bid. The Dawgs are 4-1 in SEC home games, 2-4 in SEC road games and 6-5 overall. If they win their remaining home games, the worst they can finish in league play is 9-7.

Tennessee is 5-0 in SEC home games, 0-5 in SEC road games and 5-5 overall. If the Vols continue winning at home and losing on the road, they'll finish 8-8 in league play. Clearly, the best way for UT to gain ground on Vandy and Georgia is to pick up an SEC road win or two down the stretch. The regular-season finale March 3 at Athens could be huge, since it provides the opportunity for UT to post a road win while saddling Georgia with a home loss.

Of course, SEC road wins are few and far between. Sixty-one games into the 2006-07 league schedule, home teams have won 43 times ... road teams just 18 times. Basically, winning at home is no big deal; LOSING at home is. Likewise, losing on the road is no big deal; WINNING on the road is.

That's why I've devised a rating system that awards a team two points for winning on the road and deducts two points for losing at home. Home wins and road losses are discounted, since these are the norm. I call it the Home/Road Factor, and I think it provides a better perspective than typical standings.

For example: A team with a 4-1 home record and a 2-3 road record would get 4 points for the two road wins and a 2-point deduction for the home loss, producing a Home/Road rating of PLUS-2. If this team wins its remaining home games and loses its remaining road games, it would finish 2 games over .500 at 9-7. A team with a PLUS-4 Home/Road Rating is on pace to finish 4 games over .500 ... or 10-6. A team with a ZERO rating is on pace to finish 8-8. A team with a MINUS-2 rating is on pace to finish 2 games below .500 ... or 7-9. And so on.

That said, here are my latest calculations:

SEC EAST

Florida 5-0 at home, 5-0 away, 10-0 overall ... Home/Road rating: PLUS-10

Vanderbilt 4-0 at home, 2-4 away, 6-4 overall ... Home/Road rating: PLUS-4

Kentucky 4-2 at home, 3-1 away, 7-3 overall ... Home/Road rating: PLUS-2

Georgia 4-1 at home, 2-4 away, 6-5 overall ... Home/Road rating: PLUS-2

Tennessee 5-0 at home, 0-5 away, 5-5 overall ... Home/Road rating: ZERO

S. Carolina 1-4 at home, 1-4 away, 2-8 overall ... Home/Road rating: MINUS-6

SEC WEST

Alabama 4-1 at home, 1-4 away, 5-5 overall ... Home/Road rating: ZERO

Ole Miss 4-1 at home, 1-4 away, 5-5 overall ... Home/Road rating: ZERO

Miss. St. 3-2 at home, 1-4 away, 4-6 overall ... Home/Road rating: MINUS-2

Arkansas 3-2 at home, 1-4 away, 4-6 overall ... Home/Road rating: MINUS-2

Auburn 3-3 at home, 1-4 away, 4-7 overall ... Home/Road rating: MINUS-4

LSU 3-2 at home, 0-5 away, 3-7 overall ... Home/Road rating: MINUS-4


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