Wichita State's RPI adds up, not a fluke

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin talks to the media during team practice at Holy Cross School in New Orleans, La., Thursday, March 8, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin talks to the media during team practice at Holy Cross School in New Orleans, La., Thursday, March 8, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Power-conference teams would rather play in traffic than on a mid-major's home court.

Coach Cuonzo Martin has been on both sides of the gulf. He went from small-time at Missouri State to big-time at Tennessee.

As a result, he knows how that perceived gulf, isn't in fact very wide.

That's why, when scheduling No. 23 Wichita State to a home-and-home deal, he didn't view the Shockers as mid-major, but instead as a major RPI boost.

"You've got to be smart about who you play," said Martin, whose Vols will face the Shockers today (TV: MyVLT, 7 p.m.) at Thompson-Boling Arena. "(Wichita State) is a very talented team. You want to give those team opportunities, but it depends on what their personnel is and what your personnel is. You don't just schedule games just to schedule them. It has to be a quality opponent. (Wichita State) has a tremendous RPI."

No. 18 as of Wednesday, to be exact, and it's no fluke. The Shockers have finished the last three seasons at No. 49, No. 35 and No. 18 in the RPI.

Those last two numbers are considerably better than where UT finished in those seasons.

According to Martin, Tennessee first pursued "name" power-conference teams for games, with little success, before reaching out to Wichita State and Xavier for games. Both are coming to Knoxville this year, but then UT has to return the favor. Few teams from BCS conferences are interested in taking on that challenge.

"Because I've been (at the mid-major level), I don't get consumed with that," Martin said. "The one thing about it is, there are BCS teams we called that didn't want to play. Now you're trying to find games. We needed to find a quality opponent. At the end of the day, it really matters in March."

Wichita State comes from the better-than-you-think Missouri Valley Conference, same as Missouri State. The league has as many teams (two) ranked in the top 25 as the SEC. Most attention this season is paid to No. 16 Creighton, but very quietly, the Shockers have snuck out to a 9-0 start and into the rankings.

They'll go for 10-0 — the best start in school history — against Tennessee (4-3).

"We've told the team that Wichita isn't just ranked 23rd, they could very well actually be the 23rd best team in the country," said UT assistant Kent Williams, who dropped 2,012 career points on MVC foes from 2000-03 as a star at Southern Illinois. "It's a great program. It's not like they all the sudden popped up. We will say it to the guys, but there is no way to prepare for how these teams approach a game against a school like Tennessee."

Like an NCAA tournament game, that's how. With few opportunities to play games to bolster their NCAA tournaments resumes, MVC teams view games like this one as name-makers.

Want national attention as a mid-major? Beating a team picked to finish fourth in the SEC on its home court is a good start.

Williams' message to the Vols: "It's not a regular game to them, even if it is to you."

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn

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Comments » 16

voloffaith writes:

Can we shock the 'Shockers'! Probably not if we score less than 40 again.....

CoverOrange writes:

Outside of Kentucky and Florida, the SEC is pretty much mid-major level.

BUBBA-Deeeeee writes:

Every team on the regular schedule is a possible shocker ,,
Just get it done and get the gettkids to be a shocker

BUBBA-Deeeeee writes:

Tennessee will never be sub level

BUBBA-Deeeeee writes:

Run that by Ernie and Berrnie, Even Bullwinkle

Retiredvol writes:

I am very disappointed the Vols are so bad this year. Stats show a horrible season ahead of us.

totoiv writes:

I heard their coach on the Knoxville radio the other day. He sounded like an excellent coach with lots of success that has turned down a few opportunties to move on to bigger programs. He does an excellent job in recruiting to Witchita. They have had several players go on to NBA developmental teams and/or Europe. They are talanted and have beaten some solid teams this year - VCU and Iowa that I remember. Based on how the Vols are playing I think we are in trouble. I can't put my finger on why we are struggling offensively. We are having a very hard time of getting a good open shot. And, everyone seems they are in a cold streak. These games are just as important as the SEC in building a NCAA tourney resume'.

Orangeblood13 writes:

Move the ball
Run
Guard the ball

blewissmith writes:

As long as they continue to play defense at the level they are playing now, they should be fine...can't shoot this bad all year...can they?

brod writes:

they are coming to our house. the vols will roll. the team can actually score points here. wish i could be there. ray mears was before my time but it is nice that they are honoring him.

SouthPaVol writes:

in response to totoiv:

I heard their coach on the Knoxville radio the other day. He sounded like an excellent coach with lots of success that has turned down a few opportunties to move on to bigger programs. He does an excellent job in recruiting to Witchita. They have had several players go on to NBA developmental teams and/or Europe. They are talanted and have beaten some solid teams this year - VCU and Iowa that I remember. Based on how the Vols are playing I think we are in trouble. I can't put my finger on why we are struggling offensively. We are having a very hard time of getting a good open shot. And, everyone seems they are in a cold streak. These games are just as important as the SEC in building a NCAA tourney resume'.

"I can't put my finger on why we are struggling offensively."

In a word, "attack!" Attack the basket. About 75% of our passes moves the ball further away from the basket. Our best pass seems to be behind us. It taints the stats: less turn overs, but less shots; more desperation shots as the shot clock ends. On offense, it looks like we are trying not to lose.

Trouble is, we can't score the ball against man-to-man or zone defenses. We play on our heels offensively, and nobody seems to want to step up and be better than the others. Gonna have to turn these hosses loose coach.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

"I can't put my finger on why we are struggling offensively."

In a word, "attack!" Attack the basket. About 75% of our passes moves the ball further away from the basket. Our best pass seems to be behind us. It taints the stats: less turn overs, but less shots; more desperation shots as the shot clock ends. On offense, it looks like we are trying not to lose.

Trouble is, we can't score the ball against man-to-man or zone defenses. We play on our heels offensively, and nobody seems to want to step up and be better than the others. Gonna have to turn these hosses loose coach.

I'm hoping that the team's recent offensive struggles are because they were playing on the road. True, they will have to win some road games to have a really good season, but just maybe they will get back in the groove at home tonight and bolster their confidence for the games to come. Like you, I would REALLY like to see more purposeful movement in the offense and maybe a little more effort to run off of defensive rebounds. Only Golden has been able to penetrate effectively in the half court, but McRae and Richardson in particular are pretty good in open court situations.

bluffley writes:

The Vols have a great defense as do the Shockers. It will be a tough one however since the Shockers are the #1 road team in all of college basketball for the past 2 yrs. The injury to Maymon and the other player was the beginning of the down turn. It's still early and things will get better when they are on the mend.

underthehill writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Outside of Kentucky and Florida, the SEC is pretty much mid-major level.

Mizzu expected to be very good..bama looks to be better than expected..

lcprice061 writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Can we shock the 'Shockers'! Probably not if we score less than 40 again.....

You can if you have a couple of officials that are helping your team or just learning basketball.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Retiredvol:

I am very disappointed the Vols are so bad this year. Stats show a horrible season ahead of us.

Stats only show what HAS happened, and the fewer cases considered, the less valid they are as predicters. The Vols had three bad games out of seven and most observers would have said that two of their opponents, OKSU and G'town, were favored. The UVA game was a major disappointment, no doubt. However, basketball is a confidence game, and basketball players have short memories. Last night's game should show that improvement is to be expected. Don't give up on them yet.

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