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No. 1 Tennessee could forfeit its games in the SEC Tournament this week in Hoover, Alabama, and still receive one of the top eight national seeds. That will allow the Volunteers (49-7, 25-5 SEC champions) to host an NCAA Regional (June 3-6) and – provided they advance – and host an NCAA Super Regional (June 10-13).
The eight Super Regional winners advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, (June 16-27). The top eight seeds, the 16 NCAA Regional host sites and the 64-team field will be announced on Monday, May 30.
Tennessee, which swept LSU last year at home in the Super Regional before going 0-for-2 in the CWS, plays in the SEC Tournament at 5:30 p.m. eastern time Wednesday on the SEC Network. The Vols will play the the winner of game three on Tuesday between No. 8 seed Vanderbilt (35-19, 14-16) and No. 9 seed Ole Miss (32-21, 14-16) at 5:30 p.m.
The tournament opened at 11:05 a.m. Tuesday at the 10,800-seat Hoover Metropolitan Stadium with No. 6 seed Georgia (35-20, 15-15) playing No. 11 seed Alabama (29-25, 12-17) following a 35-minute rain delay.
No. 7 seed Florida (35-20, 15-15) and No. 10 South Carolina (27-27, 14-16) follow at approximately 2:30 p.m. Game three pits No. 8 seed Vanderbilt (35-19, 14-16) against No. 9 Ole Miss (32-21, 14-16) at approximately 6 p.m. with No. 5 Auburn (37-18, 16-13) and No. 12 Kentucky (30-24, 12-18) to follow.
All Tuesday games are single elimination with a double-elimination format Wednesday-through-Friday before single elimination in the semifinals on Saturday and the final on Sunday. All games will be televised by the SEC Network until Sunday when ESPN2 does the final at 3 p.m.
Alabama will be playing just 50 minutes from home, but look for Tennessee to possibly bring as many fans as any team with the possible exception of No. 4 seed LSU (37-18, 16-13), which tends to take the town over. The Tigers play in the late game Wednesday against the Auburn-Kentucky winner from the late game Tuesday.
The two other Wednesday games have No. 3 seed Arkansas (38-16, 18-12) playing the Georgia-Alabama winner at 10:30 a.m. and No. 2 seed Texas A&M (35-17, 19-11) meeting the Florida-South Carolina winner at approximately 2 p.m.
The Vols are coming off their first SEC regular season title since 1995 and have never won an overall SEC Tourament title. Fans have followed Tennessee to away sites throughout this season as the Vols became the first team to win 25 SEC games since Vanderbilt went 26-3 in 2013.
“Wherever we’re at, they seem to be showing up,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said after sweeping a three-game series at Mississippi State over the weekend for the first time in history, and it was in front of a large contingent of Vol fans.
“It was awesome,” Vitello said. “I mean, in Florida, and here, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense if you look at the map, at least based off Knoxille.”
A large contingent of Orange watched the Vols sweep three from the Gators, April 22-24, in Gainesville, which is an eight-hour drive from Knoxville. Starkville, Mississippi, was a six-hour drive. The trek to Hoover from Rocky Top is just four hours.
“You kind of go from appreciating it (traveling fans) to almost expecting it,” Vitello said.
So count on Tennessee to be there.
Here is what all 12 teams in the SEC Tourament need to do to raise their all-important Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) ranking to reach the NCAA postseason or enhance their chances of hosting a Regional or Super Regional.
No. 1 Seed Tennessee, No. 1 RPI: Show up. The Vols could go 0-for-2, go home, rest and get ready to host the NCAA Regional and Super Regional rounds. Last 4 SEC Series: 8-4. Prediction: Will host as No. 1 national seed.
No. 2 Seed Texas A&M, No. 22 RPI: Win two games. The Aggies moved into position to become a top eight national seed by winning two of three at Ole Miss to end the regular season as SEC West champions. It was also the Aggies’ seventh straight series victory. But their RPI is low for a top eight seed. Last 4 SEC Series: 9-3. Prediction: Will host as No. 8 national seed.
No. 3 Seed Arkansas, No. 33 RPI: Win two games. The Razorbacks have played their way out of a host site with a slipping RPI as they have lost three of their last five series, including two of three at No. 48 Alabama over the weekend. Last 4 SEC Series: 6-6. Prediction: Traveling to an NCAA Regional.
No. 4 Seed LSU, No. 23 RPI: Reach the championship. That could get LSU a Regional host site. It is a dark horse for that at the moment, despite sweeping three at Vanderbilt over the weekend, partly because it was swept at home the previous week by Ole Miss. And top hitters Jacob Berry and Tre Morgan are banged up.. Last 4 SEC Series: 7-5. Prediction: LSU scrambles to host an NCAA Regional.
No. 5 Seed Auburn, No. 7 RPI: Win one or two games. That could get Auburn a Regional host site because of its high RPI, despite a recent slide with two of three losses at No. 54 RPI Kentucky over the weekend and three series losses out of its last four. But one of those was at Tennessee. Auburn has road series victories at LSU and at A&M with a home series victory over No. 5 RPI Vanderbilt. Last 4 SEC Series: 5-6. Prediction: Auburn wins two and gets a Regional host site.
No. 6 Seed Georgia, No. 12 RPI: Reach the championship. That could help Georgia make up for a recent slide in which it lost four straight league series, including at lowly Missouri over the weekend,.and have a chance at a Regional host site. Last 4 SEC Series: 4-8. Prediction: Georgia continues its slide and travels to an NCAA Regional.
No. 7 Seed Florida, No. 24 RPI: Reach the championship. The Gators have won four series in a row, but against the low end of the league – South Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi State and Kentucky. Last 4 SEC Series: 9-3. Prediction: The Gators travel to a Regional site.
No. 8 Seed Vanderbilt, No. 5 RPI: Win two or three games. The Commodores still have an extremely high RPI as it has a win over No. 18 RPI Oklahoma State and road series wins at No. 7 RPI Auburn, No. 12 RPI Georgia and No. 33 RPI Arkansas. But Vanderbilt just got swept at home by LSU to fall to 14-16 in the SEC, so it needs to make a dramatic move to host a Regional. Last 4 SEC Series: 5-7. Prediction: Vanderbilt travels to a Regional site.
No. 9 Seed Ole Miss, No. 36 RPI: Win a game. Ole Miss was No. 1 early in the season, made a late run with a sweep at LSU after beating No. 13 RPI Southern Mississippi. But the Rebels just gave up double-digit runs twice in losing a home series to the Aggies. Last 4 SEC Series: 8-4. Prediction: Ole Miss makes an early exit, but will travel to an NCAA Regional.
No. 10 Seed South Carolina, No. 67 RPI: Win the tournament for automatic NCAA postseason bid. Last 4 Series: 7-5. Prediction: South Carolina will not reach the NCAA postseason.
No. 11 Seed Alabama, No. 47 RPI: Win the tournament for automatic NCAA bid. Last 4 Series: 3-8. Prediction: The Tide will not take advantage of near-home-stadium advantage and will not get NCAA bid.
No. 12 Seed Kentucky, No. 54 RPI: With the tournament for automatic bid. The Wildcats are the only team in the SEC that can say they beat Tennessee in a three-game series – 3-2 in 13 innings and 5-2 on May 5-6 in Lexington before losing the finale, 7-2, in seven innings. But they finished six games below .500 in the SEC. Last 4 Series: 6-6. Prediction: The Wildcats’ seasons ends in Hoover.