Cuonzo Martin recaps the Vols' win over Georgia
All games count the same in the win/loss column. And, of course, you take 'em one at a time.
That's fine for coaches and players. But we're not coaches or players, you and I, so let's count 'em and take 'em how we want.
Tennessee's men are in the midst of a crucial two-game swing. A crucial swing for Kentucky or Florida is at the top of the SEC standings, but for the Vols it's at the bottom.
Tennessee beat Georgia last Saturday. Now it must beat South Carolina on Wednesday night.
Georgia and South Carolina are tied for last in the standings with identical 1-7 records. The Vols should still shudder that Georgia's only win came gift-wrapped by their own
unsteady hand on Jan. 18, 57-53 in overtime in Athens.
All wins or losses don't really count the same, not the way I look at it.
The 12 SEC teams are competing for, among other things, seeding in the league tournament in New Orleans. The Vols aren't battling with Kentucky, Florida or Vanderbilt for a first-round bye. They're jostling with the lower end of the pecking order.
If the SEC tourney began today — remember the seeding is 1-through-12 — Tennessee would play LSU in the 8 vs. 9 game. Both the Vols and Tigers are 3-5 at the midpoint.
When you beat the teams immediately around you in the standings, it's not only a win for you, it's a loss for them. That creates space. Furthermore, a head-to-head win is advantageous in breaking ties for seeds.
The Vols' recent wins over Auburn and Georgia were significant in determining life at the bottom of the standings.
And so will two games against South Carolina, Wednesday in Thompson-Boling Arena and Feb. 25 in Columbia.
"We're just fighting to be a good team," UT coach Cuonzo Martin said Monday. "You do what you're supposed to do, the postseason will come."
Speaking of the postseason, at 11-12, the Vols' backs are against the bracket wall.
The NIT is a tougher bid since the NCAA took over in 2006. The so-called runner-up tournament has accepted only one .500 team in the past five years, a 16-16 North Carolina team.
The CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament has never taken a team from a BCS conference in its three-year history.
That leaves the four-year-old College Basketball Invitational as the only event that has invited a BCS team with a losing record.
Ask any Vol and he'll tell you the goal is to win the SEC tournament and earn the league's automatic bid to the Big Dance.
It's far-fetched, but there is recent precedent. Georgia won in 2008 after a 4-12 regular season; Mississippi State won it in 2009 after going 9-7.
Positioning yourself with a decent seed helps. The good news for UT is it has four games left with the teams it is equal with (LSU) or one game behind (Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss all are 4-4) in the standings.
And then there are the two with lowly South Carolina sitting there 1-7.
Must-win? Yes. Safe to take for granted? Hardly.
"It's not like we're sitting here on top of the block," said UT guard Trae Golden. "That would be dumb."
Added senior Cameron Tatum, "We're not 1-7, but we're not 17-0. ... We don't have a right to look at anybody's record like that.
"We're trying to scratch and claw and get a win, too."
There's nothing like scratching out a win against your neighbors, even if you're no longer in the high-rent neighborhood.
The idea isn't just to keep up with the Joneses. It's to stay ahead of them.