Lady Vols have improved but don't plan for a long run in March Madness

Lady Vols Show Improvement but Face Challenges for Extended March Madness Run

In their latest basketball showdown, the Lady Vols left a strong impression.

Facing the undefeated No. 1 team, South Carolina, Tennessee found themselves trailing by 23 points during an SEC Tournament semifinal match. This was a dire situation.

However, they mounted an impressive comeback, eventually taking a two-point lead against the nation’s top team with only 1.1 seconds remaining on the clock. This effort was truly commendable.

In the final, perplexing second, they overlooked an inbound pass and a 3-point shooter, allowing South Carolina to snatch a 74-73 win. This oversight was regrettable.

Those last 1.1 seconds will be replayed frequently over the next few weeks, highlighting the Gamecocks’ journey through the NCAA Tournament bracket, potentially towards an unbeaten national championship season. Interestingly, I caught this moment twice during ESPN’s selection show on Sunday night.

Despite the disappointing end, this game showcased the Lady Vols’ potential in the NCAA Tournament. Their comeback from a 23-point deficit against South Carolina stands out as a significant achievement in an otherwise challenging 19-12 season.

When viewed in the context of their games against South Carolina, Tennessee’s overall record becomes even more intriguing. They lost all three matches against the Gamecocks, but with an average margin of just 6.7 points. Meanwhile, South Carolina’s average victory margin over the season is 29.8 points.

Competing closely with the Gamecocks shows that the Lady Vols can hold their own against any team. However, merely being competitive isn’t enough to advance in the NCAA Tournament; victories are essential.

Tennessee’s record against top 25 teams this season is 1-7, with their sole win coming early in the season against Oklahoma. This highlights the challenges they’ve faced against nationally ranked teams.

The Lady Vols have several strengths that could pose challenges for many teams. Their size, the talent of Rickea Jackson, one of the nation’s top players, and their depth are significant advantages for a tournament run. However, their seeding could pose a challenge.

Despite the increasing parity in women’s basketball, it doesn’t impact the game as much as it does in men’s basketball, where a high seed can sometimes be a burden.

The Lady Vols are likely to be underdogs as early as the second round, a position that historically has been harder to advance from in the women’s game compared to the men’s.

Jackson is a standout player, averaging 21.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in four games against top-10 teams South Carolina and LSU. The NCAA Tournament is expected to bring out her best. The question remains: will her teammates rise to the occasion as well?

In the last two games of the SEC Tournament, Jewel Spear and Sara Puckett stepped up, contributing significantly to the team’s performance. Spear scored 24 points against Alabama and 21 against South Carolina, while Puckett, despite a poor 3-point shooting performance in one game, scored 22 points in Tennessee’s victory over Kentucky.

In an ideal scenario for the Lady Vols in the tournament, Jackson will showcase her All-American skills, supported by Spear and Puckett’s offensive contributions.

The selection committee recognized the Lady Vols for their strong schedule and their competitiveness against quality teams in February and early March, awarding them a No. 6 seed despite 12 losses. They are expected to surpass 11th seed Green Bay in the first round. However, advancing beyond the second round will be challenging, especially against No. 3 seed NC State in Raleigh, which boasts home-court advantage, size, balanced scoring, and an experienced coach in Wes Moore.

John Adams is a seasoned columnist who can be contacted at or followed on Twitter at