Tennessee's status as an at-large team in the NCAA tournament could survive recent losses to Texas A&M and South Carolina, but not what happened Thursday night.
For the first time, Vanderbilt beat Tennessee in Knoxville, ending a string of 33 consecutive losses and leaving the Lady Vols on the wrong side of the bubble. Tennessee, which has never missed an NCAA tournament, now sits among the First Four Out after Thursday's 76-69 loss.
Teams on and around the bubble have been losing lately, and in some cases suffering bad losses -- West Virginia lost to Oklahoma by 11 points and Indiana fell to Northwestern by 20, to name a couple. But none were as shocking and potentially damaging as Tennessee falling to a Vanderbilt team that had lost eight consecutive games, entered Thursday's meeting with just one conference win and ranked 196 in the RPI.
The Lady Vols were outworked most of the night by the Commodores (7-21), who lost to Tennessee 82-65 in Nashville less than a month ago. Now Tennessee -- the only Division I team to play in all 37 NCAA tournaments since the event's inception -- has lost three straight games (and dropped six in a row in January).
Vanderbilt knocks off Tennessee
The Commodores overcome a 10-point deficit in the second quarter to defeat the Lady Vols 76-69 in Knoxville for the first time in program history.
A lack of urgency that has plagued the Lady Vols much of the season appeared at its worst on Thursday at Thompson-Boling Arena. Vanderbilt, which ranks last in the SEC in rebounding, held a 34-22 advantage on the glass. Tennessee came into the game as the conference's best rebounding team.
With the Lady Vols falling out of the field, Indiana -- fresh off that 20-point loss to Northwestern -- returns and LSU gets to stay in despite suffering its own 20-point loss on Thursday to Mississippi State. Such is the fragility and softness of the bubble.
It's so soft, in fact, that Tennessee might not be done yet, despite the three-game skid, the 6-9 SEC record and a second loss to a team below 100 in the RPI. The Lady Vols have four top-50 RPI wins, which is more than Auburn (currently in), LSU (in), UCF (in), Kansas State (in), Butler (out), Utah (out), TCU (out) and West Virginia (out).
Commodores hungry for more
Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White discusses what the win in Knoxville means for her team as the final stretch of the season approaches.
And some of the mid-major races will continue to impact the bubble. Drake and Central Michigan already have put together NCAA tournament-worthy seasons. But through Thursday's games, Missouri State, not Drake, is the No. 1 seed in the Missouri Valley Conference, and Miami (Ohio), not Central Michigan, is the top seed in the MAC. Both of those conferences could end up as one-bid leagues should the Bulldogs and Chippewas win those conference tournaments -- which would potentially open up two at-large bids. If that were the case today, the Lady Vols would still be in the field.
While it looks grim and Tennessee hardly looks the part of an NCAA tournament team, the Lady Vols could still make the field and run that streak of NCAA tournament appearances to 38 with a little help and/or a couple of wins in the SEC tournament.