Not only were they facing an Auburn Tigers team with just two wins over KenPom top-25 teams and none away from Auburn Arena.
Oh, and it was practically a home game for the Vols, as Nashville was absolutely flooded with Tennessee fans in and around Bridgestone Arena.
But this is March Madness, where the unexpected is normal, and the Tigers shocked Tennessee with a dominating 84-64 win. It was the worst loss the Vols suffered this season, and it almost certainly cost them a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
They also lost to their former head coach, Bruce Pearl, who was coaching circles around Rick Barnes today. Say what you will about Pearl and his ‘questionable’ recruiting tactics, but he’s still one of the best in the sport.
Had Tennessee won, they were being projected as a 1 seed in the Midwest or West Region, which would have brought some favorable paths to a Final Four berth with a team like Michigan State or Gonzaga as the 2 seed.
Now, Auburn is the SEC champs and have won 10 of 11 games. They were expected to be one of the 2-3 best SEC teams this season, and while they struggled at times, they left little doubt they were the second-best team behind only Kentucky, who went 2-0 against the Tigers.
Perhaps that could help Kentucky stay ahead of Tennessee in the 2 seed line.