CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A couple of free throws last Friday night would have delivered the SEC its marquee win of the young men's college basketball season.
Alas, Tennessee was either too short, too hard, too left or too right and Georgetown slipped off the hook with a 37-36 win.
A month into the season, that leaves Missouri's win over Virginia Commonwealth as the SEC's only triumph over a top-50 team in the RPI chart I checked Tuesday. Not much to hang your hat on.
The Vols are on the road tonight on the University of Virginia campus once strolled by Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Sampson and Derek Dooley.
A Tennessee win over the Cavaliers wouldn't rock the basketball world. It would, though, be a helpful stroke come March when the NCAA tournament bracket is filled with at-large hopefuls.
Those early-season wins and losses do have a shelf life of at least three months. In that regard, the SEC better get busy.
The SEC might dominate football, but men's hoops, not so much.
Florida (No. 6) and Missouri (No. 12) are the only teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. A bunch of SEC teams have achieved spiffy records without beating much of anybody.
The SEC went 3-9 in the recent SEC/Big East Challenge, the only wins coming from the Gators, Ole Miss and LSU.
As leagues go, the SEC is No. 8 in RPI, trailing the other five power conferences plus the Mountain West and Atlantic 10.
Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, who have been consistently good, are both awful, wiped out by graduation and/or attrition.
Kentucky has found this session of reloading to be more challenging than past ones under John Calipari. But in time the young Cats will sort it out.
Tennessee was figured for a contender and while the Vols haven't looked the part, they might yet.
Coach Cuonzo Martin planned to have Jeronne Maymon carving a swath in the paint. It remains to be seen when or even if Maymon's knee is good enough to get him on the floor.
Tennessee is at No. 133 at RealtimeRPI.com, its best win over UMass (112).
The Vols were no match for Oklahoma State (RPI 15). Georgetown (20) is the big one that got away.
Virginia is at a modest 135 but that will improve once ACC play begins.
Tennessee has two ripe opportunities looming: Wichita State at a robust No. 12 and Xavier at 35. The jury is still out on Memphis (155).
All in all, Martin assembled a non-conference schedule that should vault the Vols into the bracket — provided they take advantage of enough of those opportunities.
After the whiff at Georgetown, it's more important to bring one home tonight.