Two of the most storied programs in the history of the women's game are absent from espnW's latest Bracketology projection, even though both teams were ranked among the top 15 in the preseason.
They were also on opposite sides Sunday, Texas beating Tennessee 72-67 in Austin in what was an entertaining and well-played game (the second half, at least). It was a win the Longhorns desperately needed and an opportunity lost for the Lady Vols, who erased a 15-point deficit to lead at one point in the second half but still fell to 4-4.
So how does a game that features two teams with a combined 13 McDonald's All Americans on the rosters fail to include at least one that is considered tournament-worthy at this point?
The easy answer: record. These two nearly annual postseason participants are just a combined 7-8. The schedules the two programs play during the nonconference season are always tough -- but this season they have taken their toll more than usual, as have some injuries.
In Austin, at least, there isn't too much need to worry. The current outside-looking-in status should change for the Longhorns. Texas is surely one of the 32 best teams in the country, which would normally put the team in line for an at-large berth.
However, Bracketology is a snapshot of the season today. The committee doesn't offer at-large selections to teams with losing records. That would be unprecedented. So at 3-4, Texas simply can't be in the field at this point. Sure, three of those four losses are to teams in the top 10 (UConn, Mississippi State and South Carolina), but sub-.500 is sub-.500, even though Texas was considered a No. 2 seed in the preseason.
With four home games -- they'll be heavily favored in each -- to finish the calendar year, the Longhorns will be well on the way to being included in our first projection of 2017. If they live up to the preseason billing as the second-best team in the Big 12 behind Baylor, the Longhorns could wind up hosting NCAA tournament games as a top-four seed. With the win over Tennessee, they also have a solid nonconference feather.
The Lady Vols' situation doesn't come with the same level of confidence. The fears that floated over Knoxville when Tennessee's NCAA tournament prospects looked bleak at one point last spring should be returning.
Even as Holly Warlick's club fought chemistry issues and stumbled through the meat of the SEC schedule in 2015-16, it still had big nonleague wins over Syracuse and Oregon State, two eventual Final Four teams, as a foundation. The Lady Vols don't have that this year -- and they won't. They lost four of their last five games, falling to every quality foe they encountered (Penn State, Virginia Tech, Baylor and Texas).
Tennesee's schedule wasn't even as tough this year, and with only Sunday's matchup with Stanford at Thompson-Bolling and a mid-January Big Monday game against Notre Dame, the opportunity for quality wins might have to come in the SEC. If Tennessee goes 8-8 with a win at Missouri being its best -- like in 2016 -- the Lady Vols likely won't make the NCAA tournament this time. That would be a program first. (They were a No. 7 seed last season.)
In Sunday's loss to Texas, Diamond DeShields was efficient and Jaime Nared played what was perhaps her best game in a Tennessee uniform. But the Lady Vols really needed to finish off the comeback.
That makes Sunday's visit from the Cardinal as big as any mid-December game can be.