Tennessee basketball is No. 5 seed in SEC Tournament. Here

Tennessee basketball is No. 5 seed in SEC Tournament. Here

AUBURN, Ala. − Tennessee basketball is the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament after failing to secure a double-bye because of its loss at Auburn and Missouri’s win against Ole Miss.

The Vols finished tied for fourth with Missouri in the SEC, but are the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament because of their loss to the Tigers. UT could have clinched a top-four seed and a double-bye with a win at Auburn. It lost 79-70 on Saturday at Neville Arena, its fifth straight road loss.

The No. 5-seeded Vols (22-9, 11-7 SEC) will face the winner of No. 12 South Carolina (11-20, 4-14) and No. 13 Ole Miss (11-20, 3-15) on Thursday (approx. 3 p.m. ET, SEC Network) at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.

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Why the No. 5 seed benefits Tennessee

Tennessee is adjusting to life without Zakai Zeigler, its star point guard who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his left knee Tuesday against Arkansas. Saturday was the first game for the Vols without Zeigler and it had mixed results.

Vols coach Rick Barnes said Thursday that the Vols could choose to look at the extra game by not securing a double-bye as a positive to mesh without Zeigler in the lineup.

“You could look at it any way you want to look at it,” Barnes said. “If that’s the way you want to look at it. You know, obviously with Zakai being out, whoever we put in we get a little bit longer, with length. But yeah, you could look at it (that way).

“I think that’s how you have to look at it. Whatever falls your way, you’ve got to look at it like, hey, this is the way it’s supposed to be and we’ve got to make the most of it.”

Santiago Vescovi had 21 points and made five 3-pointers against Auburn as the primary point guard against the Tigers.

Why Tennessee is the No. 5 seed

Tennessee and Missouri finished tied for fourth with a 10-8 record in SEC play, trailing No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Texas A&M and No. 3 Kentucky. Missouri topped Tennessee 86-85 on Feb. 11 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

Vanderbilt also could finish tied for fourth if it beats Mississippi State on Saturday. Missouri is guaranteed the No. 4 seed because it went 2-0 against Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

Tennessee and Vanderbilt split the regular season series, kicking the tiebreaker to record against the No. 1 seed. Vanderbilt lost to Alabama, while the Vols won 68-59 on Feb. 15.

Tennessee basketball is the reigning SEC Tournament champions

Tennessee won the 2022 SEC Tournament, its first conference tournament title since 1979. The Vols topped Texas A&M 65-50 to win the title game in Tampa, Florida.

UT has reached the SEC Tournament title game three times under Barnes. The Vols lost to Kentucky in 2018 in St. Louis and lost to Auburn in 2019 in Nashville.

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it