Mike Strange: Vols can't cut the downtrodden any breaks

Mike Strange

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.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange

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Comments » 20

bspurlingcac#225603 writes:

We need to get on a hot streak now!!! GBO!!!

wigmeister writes:

Actually, a good article.

FanNotSheep writes:

Dude, we are the downtrodden.

Tennessee has a losing record and has already lost to one of those 1-7 teams. The way the Vols shoot the three you can not assume a win over any opponent, not even Austin Peay. This team has no business feeling superior to anybody and needs to keep a chip on its shoulder even if we do beat the Gamecocks, or we have no chance of extending the season beyond the SEC Tournament.

DougSharp writes:

Nothing like lowered expectations. "The Vols' recent wins over Auburn and Georgia were significant in determining life at the bottom of the standings."

Vols may need a little more - just work your butts off to become the best team you can be and let the chips fall where they may - type of focus. Can't believe that CCM lets his players even talk to the media.....Geez!

DougSharp writes:

Once again, Mike Strange fans the flames of stupidity! I bet he has a hard time writing some of this stuff for laughing so hard at the responses it'll generate.

voloffaith writes:

in response to DougSharp:

Nothing like lowered expectations. "The Vols' recent wins over Auburn and Georgia were significant in determining life at the bottom of the standings."

Vols may need a little more - just work your butts off to become the best team you can be and let the chips fall where they may - type of focus. Can't believe that CCM lets his players even talk to the media.....Geez!

You mean like this site actually lets you post.......Jeez! Bluesbird of unhappiness ewe be this morn.... :(

Bigger_Al writes:

And if we end up in the 8-9 game this year, UK would play the winner. Need to keep moving on up.

born2ride writes:

We will beat South Carolina at home. After that game, the wins will be hard to come by.

The only way we get in the NCAA is to win the SEC tourney. We are not going to win enough games to make the NIT. We should say no to the CBI.

This is the best we can expect from Conzo. He will never match the success of Bruce Pearl.

Ironcity writes:

This is going to be a tough game for UT. Teams with shot blockers of which SC has one give us a lot of trouble. I don't think UT has the team that can really dominate anyone at this point.

After Wed. the fun starts and we will see if this team has matured or not.

jdcdjc writes:

As much as I would like it, they are not going to win the SEC tournament as long as Ky comes to play, we can't stay on the same court with them. They best win all the games they should from here in and hope the NIT grabs them.

CoverOrange writes:

Tennessee has played well at home since the Austin Peay incident. Fair chance they will sweep the homestand remaining. Stealing a road win will be the pinch point and the best opportunity for that will be at SC. Even if they get that and finish the season above 500 they'll have to get past day one of the SEC tourney to stay above 500 and get an NIT invite. Possible, not "no chance," but no margin for error.

BigOrangeJeff writes:

Did you ever notice that someone who loudly proclaims that he or she is "Not a sheep" is really just some miserable old coot looking for an excuse to act like a jerk?

orangecountyvols writes:

Jeff,

Sounds about right, IMO.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Ironcity:

This is going to be a tough game for UT. Teams with shot blockers of which SC has one give us a lot of trouble. I don't think UT has the team that can really dominate anyone at this point.

After Wed. the fun starts and we will see if this team has matured or not.

It's not so much the ONE shot blocker that gives the Vols such trouble, it is the one or two others who come over to funnel the UT post man INTO the shot-blocker. Not sure USCe has anyone who can do that as effectively as Vandy and UK did. Agree that this team has NO margin for error against ANYBODY this year. The perimeter players definitely have to up their game to take some pressure off our posts.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to born2ride:

We will beat South Carolina at home. After that game, the wins will be hard to come by.

The only way we get in the NCAA is to win the SEC tourney. We are not going to win enough games to make the NIT. We should say no to the CBI.

This is the best we can expect from Conzo. He will never match the success of Bruce Pearl.

And again, just who is this "we" you speak of? You have not made one single positive comment about the Vols, which, IMHO, pretty much disqualifies you from using "we" in referring to the Vols or Vol fans.

DougSharp writes:

in response to voloffaith:

You mean like this site actually lets you post.......Jeez! Bluesbird of unhappiness ewe be this morn.... :(

Kinda cute how you use the "J" in jeez, yet the "G" in gzus.

DougSharp writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Tennessee has played well at home since the Austin Peay incident. Fair chance they will sweep the homestand remaining. Stealing a road win will be the pinch point and the best opportunity for that will be at SC. Even if they get that and finish the season above 500 they'll have to get past day one of the SEC tourney to stay above 500 and get an NIT invite. Possible, not "no chance," but no margin for error.

I would venture to say you're 100% right on the money, but as Strange pointed out stranger things have happened come tourney time.

givehim6 writes:

in response to born2ride:

We will beat South Carolina at home. After that game, the wins will be hard to come by.

The only way we get in the NCAA is to win the SEC tourney. We are not going to win enough games to make the NIT. We should say no to the CBI.

This is the best we can expect from Conzo. He will never match the success of Bruce Pearl.

Wow Dude you said something good about BP! My how time changes people hu? A year ago you was first in line to fire him, shoot him what ever as long as he was gone. I was saying ok he has been punished, fire him it will be back to buzzball. But we got to live with what we got, right? Maybe UT will win the rest of our games, miracles still happen.

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

I am still holding oppinion on Martin as a coach. While I will always believe UT should have hired a former Vol alum in Byrd from Belmont with 600+ wins and NCAA Tourney experience, I will not bash Martin yet. His style is boring and may not draw the big recruits, time will tell. As for Stokes I hope the kid grows a couple inches. He seems too slow for a power forward in the NBA and too short for post. And he stands around without the ball. UT has improved in stats from last year in field goal percentage and assist. Right now its watch and see.

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to BigOrangeJeff:

Did you ever notice that someone who loudly proclaims that he or she is "Not a sheep" is really just some miserable old coot looking for an excuse to act like a jerk?

Re-read the post and you might notice that I said the team needs to keep a chip on its shoulder and the players do not need to think they are superior to any team.

I stand by those remarks. This team lost to Austin Peay and came close to beating Duke and Kentucky. Does that tell you they play up or down to the perceived level of the competition?

Perhaps you misunderstood my post. But then again I am not that old, not miserable at all and if I want to act like a jerk I don't need an excuse.

You seem to be quite capable of making jerk-like comments yourself, Jeffrey.

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