Cuonzo Martin: 10-6 in SEC puts Vols 'in good shape' for NCAA

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin watches as his team plays Florida during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. Tennessee defeated Florida 75-70. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin watches as his team plays Florida during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. Tennessee defeated Florida 75-70. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

The postseason light at the end of the proverbial tunnel has grown brighter on the men's side of Pratt Pavilion basketball facility.

The mood has shifted from the madness of an embarrassing loss to Austin Peay 2½ months ago to talk of March Madness with Tennessee riding a three-game win streak.

UT first-year men's coach Cuonzo Martin said Monday if the Vols go 10-6 in the SEC, he believes they'll be "in good shape" to make what would be the program's seventh consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

Since 1992 only three eligible SEC teams have won 10 or more conference regular-season games and failed to make the NCAA tournament, according to the conference office.

First things first, UT (13-12, 5-5 SEC) plays host to Arkansas (17-8, 5-5) on Wednesday (TV: MyVLT, 8 p.m.) in a battle of teams tied for fifth place in the league.

"I look back at our RPI, when it was 290 against Austin Peay (on Dec. 1), and now it's like (110),'' Martin said. "We're definitely making progress as a team at the right time.

"I think if you win your next five, I don't think there's any question at this level in this league,'' Martin said. "With the NCAA, you don't have a true gauge of, here's the criteria; in one year, it can change on you.

"If we win 10 league games we'll be in good shape, but that doesn't mean we'll be in for sure. You do your job, put in your work, and when Selection Sunday comes, if you're a part of it, you're a part of it.''

After Arkansas, the Vols close the regular season playing: at Alabama (1:30 p.m., Saturday); home vs. Ole Miss (7 p.m., Feb. 22); at South Carolina (8 p.m., Feb. 25); at LSU (9 p.m., Feb. 29) and home against Vanderbilt (4 p.m., March 3).

The SEC tournament takes place March 8-11 in New Orleans.

"If you don't say you think some about (postseason), you'd be lying,'' said UT junior Skylar McBee, who has averaged 13.7 points in his first three starts. "But if you start looking too far ahead, you can lose sight of what's next.

"If we focus on taking care of what's at hand, the big picture will take care of itself.''

That said, Martin's Missouri State team got snubbed last season despite winning the rugged Missouri Valley Conference outright with a 15-3 league record and a No. 39 RPI.

"That was tough,'' Martin said. "But it's part of it.''

Closer to home, Alabama failed to make the NCAA field last season despite going 12-4 in the SEC and posting a No. 48 RPI.

In 2008-09, South Carolina and Auburn each went 10-6 and failed to make the NCAA tournament, the Gamecocks with an RPI of 58 and Auburn's at 64.

UT freshman Jarnell Stokes isn't ready to start crunching numbers; he's just ready for more wins.

"We definitely plan on going to the (NCAA) tournament,'' Stokes said. "It would be amazing, but we feel we can beat any team we step on the floor with.''

More McBee: McBee has heard his critics loud and clear, but instead of being upset with them, he appreciates the edge they provide.

"Everyone has doubters, but that just keeps you hungry,'' said McBee, a former walk-on who leads UT with 48 made threes and is shooting a team-best 41.4 percent beyond the 3-point arc. "When you get satisfied, you're in trouble. As long as you have that voice in your head reminding yourself you have doubters, you're going to work hard if you're a competitor.''

The Vols are 9-0 in games McBee has scored in double digits, and UT's three-game win streak coincides with his addition to the starting lineup.

Hall's Improvement: Junior center Kenny Hall has impressed Martin since replacing Stokes in the starting lineup, particularly on defense.

"It's amazing; He's done a good job without fouling,'' Martin said. "He's playing defense without fouling. I don't want to say anything to him about it because I don't want him to start thinking about it. He has made a conscious effort of working hard in that area.''

Stat Facts: UT has scored the same amount of points in SEC play (612) as its opponents. The Vols have attempted 205 free throws and made 144 in SEC games, while opponents have attempted 202 and made 145.

Top Five: UT's hold on ranking in the top five in national attendance for a seventh consecutive season is slipping. The Vols are averaging 17,192 per home game after only 14,784 turned out for last Wednesday's home game with South Carolina.

Wisconsin, which is sixth in the nation in attendance, is averaging 17,171 per home game.

Plenty of tickets are available for Wednesday night's game against Arkansas, including lower-level seats.

Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32

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Comments » 94

VolJunkie writes:

Part of a coach's job is to motivate; of course CCM is going to let his team know the NCAA tourney is a possibility.

Seems to me that there are six regular season games left, hope this does not mean they are looking past UArk.

Go Vols!

NickDanger-ThirdEye writes:

serious long shot to make the NCAAs with all of the baggage from Dec. Win 5 of next 6 plus 2 more in the SEC tourn. still only gets us to 20-14 less the Chaminade win. I don't think 19-14 gets you in. It would be a great testimony to CCM to turn the season around and finish 17-15. GBO, beat the hogs.

Bubba_Knows writes:

I'm afraid the NIT is in our future this year. But Vols are defintely improving.

thevoice writes:

Not that I agree with the NCAA selection committee's approach, but they've shown that the RPI is the single most important quality. We're at ~101 and there's never been a team with an RPI of 60+ in the tourney. Based on that, I believe we've already stamped our ticket to the NIT. With that gym and our late-season showing, I bet there would be 2+ home games. I actually value that more than a one and done in the NCAA.

lafollette37766 writes:

It will take a miracle but if they show up for the SEC Tourny then UT may have a chance. It will be a close call no matter what.

kingofthevols writes:

I hope the team isn't reading this...that if they win their next five games they will make the tournament. Last thing this team needs is any added pressure. BTW, Cuonzo you have six games remaining. Personally, I would just love to see the Vols finish ahead of Vandy in the final conference standings.

rclarkvols#224537 writes:

Winning at South Carolina, Alabama, and LSU will be extremely difficult. I like our chances in the SEC tournament if we can end up in the opposite bracket of Kentucky.

hcjournals#206623 writes:

Now at least we are talking about doing something rather than almost doing something...

Bigger_Al writes:

I agree, if we finish with 10 SEC wins and trending up, we would get a bye in the SEC tournament and it would be hard to keep us out. Could be one of those 12 seed play-in games.

Now, talking and doing are two different things. But it is getting less ridiculous to think about as we keep winning.

FWBVol writes:

in response to kingofthevols:

I hope the team isn't reading this...that if they win their next five games they will make the tournament. Last thing this team needs is any added pressure. BTW, Cuonzo you have six games remaining. Personally, I would just love to see the Vols finish ahead of Vandy in the final conference standings.

There is pressure every time a college athlete competes. If they can't take the pressure of knowing they need to win X number of games to have a shot at the Big Dance maybe they need to find a less pressure packed activity than Division I athletics.

The great ones rise to the top and welcome pressure. This team can become great if it can meet the challenge of making a run for the NCAA tournament.

Snapshot writes:

in response to thevoice:

Not that I agree with the NCAA selection committee's approach, but they've shown that the RPI is the single most important quality. We're at ~101 and there's never been a team with an RPI of 60+ in the tourney. Based on that, I believe we've already stamped our ticket to the NIT. With that gym and our late-season showing, I bet there would be 2+ home games. I actually value that more than a one and done in the NCAA.

Not sure about your math, since there are, what now, 65 teams in the tournament? Someone has to have an RPI above 60!

VFL70 writes:

I never was any good at math.

jakethevolguy writes:

I still don't think that winning the SEC Tourney is out of the question if they get a good seeding. They played Ky to the wire at home as Ky is not a good road team. Hopefully, the VOLS have learned how to win on the road and given another shot at the Cats, who knows??? Stranger things have happened. GBO!!

Hunter writes:

in response to Snapshot:

Not sure about your math, since there are, what now, 65 teams in the tournament? Someone has to have an RPI above 60!

Automatic qualifiers often do not have an RPI in the top 60. Not sure on the validity of NEVER having a team with a 60+ RPI make it, but the premise is reasonable.

Need to win 5 of 6 and make it to Sunday in the SEC Tourney to have a chance. Not impossible, but not likely, either.

MiserableFloridaVol writes:

I think we have to win them all and get at least 2 in the SEC tourney to get a chance. I love the attitude though. I'd love nothing more than to see it happen!

tennrich1 writes:

in response to thevoice:

Not that I agree with the NCAA selection committee's approach, but they've shown that the RPI is the single most important quality. We're at ~101 and there's never been a team with an RPI of 60+ in the tourney. Based on that, I believe we've already stamped our ticket to the NIT. With that gym and our late-season showing, I bet there would be 2+ home games. I actually value that more than a one and done in the NCAA.

I know you must be talking at large bids...well at least I assume you are talking that...because I think there has been plenty of 60+ to get in what with the conference tourney and all...

tennrich1 writes:

in response to jakethevolguy:

I still don't think that winning the SEC Tourney is out of the question if they get a good seeding. They played Ky to the wire at home as Ky is not a good road team. Hopefully, the VOLS have learned how to win on the road and given another shot at the Cats, who knows??? Stranger things have happened. GBO!!

The way the talent is spread out these days Vols can win anywhere at anytime...and I think CCM has shown he's not afraid of any team!!!So I agree...its possible but not highly probably...

tennrich1 writes:

and I really think the committee looks at the last half of your schedule and what you did against those teams...

PHAT_VOL writes:

Beating UCon and beating Florida twice are signature wins that the NCAA have to look at.
Win out and I think there in. But more than likely it will be the NIT if they finish with a winning record.
Coach Martin said back in the first of Dec. that the team would look totally different in Feb. and they do. He's a very good coach.

springtx_vol writes:

in response to Snapshot:

Not sure about your math, since there are, what now, 65 teams in the tournament? Someone has to have an RPI above 60!

I am pretty sure that the reference is for an at large selection with an RPI above 60. There are only 31 or so at large spots open. I do not remember how the play in spots change that number.

Three are 34 automatic slots, most of which will have an RPI above 60. However, the committee in the past has factored in such things as last 10 games, significant players hurt or added (Stokes), and other intangibles. If UT endes up in the SEC conference tournament finals having won 5 of the last 6, I have to believe that they would make it in. I will take even a 12-seed play-in game. Can't imagine too many 5 seeds that would want to play us on a neutral court. Other than UK, Syracuse, and maybe UNC, I can't imagine too many other teams wanting to play us. We are remarkably like the Butler teams from years past, tough defense, smart plan, good athletes. We just need to hit our free throws.

westknoxrepub writes:

Unless we win the SEC Tournament, it's not going to happen. Losses to Austin-Peay, Oakland, and College of Charleston, coupled with the rapid decline of UConn that diminishes that win. I'm still not convinced we're going to finish the season with a winning record let alone make the NCAA tournament.

oldster writes:

Funny, coach Martin, does not seem like a dreamer.

OrangePride writes:

IF (and this is a huge if)...the Vols can pull a shocker and win the last five, they put themselves on the bubble. BUT, they will need to get thru AT LEAST two rounds of the SEC tournament to get a fair look. As some of the early posters accurately point out, those loses to Austin-Pea and Oakland will be difficult for the selection committee to overlook. I give the Vols about a 1 in 20 chance of making all the pieces fit for an NCAA trip.....but I would luv it if they make all the ESPN talking heads look dumb and get a bid. GO VOLS!!!

OrangePride writes:

in response to oldster:

Funny, coach Martin, does not seem like a dreamer.

As the line from the play South Pacific correctly points out, "You got to have a dream/if you don't have no dream/how you gonna make dose dreams come true?" :)

Dougb-VFL writes:

in response to OrangePride:

IF (and this is a huge if)...the Vols can pull a shocker and win the last five, they put themselves on the bubble. BUT, they will need to get thru AT LEAST two rounds of the SEC tournament to get a fair look. As some of the early posters accurately point out, those loses to Austin-Pea and Oakland will be difficult for the selection committee to overlook. I give the Vols about a 1 in 20 chance of making all the pieces fit for an NCAA trip.....but I would luv it if they make all the ESPN talking heads look dumb and get a bid. GO VOLS!!!

I completely agree with your entire post and you can bet ESPN will be looking crazy if we did pull that off! I am proud of this team and I don't care what tourney we play in we will be alright if we put forth our recent efforts.Now lets get ready for our football program turnaround. UT is going to be a beast in all sports next year! VFL

budd#207344 writes:

Funny that we are now arguing about whether we can make the dance. Not so long ago we were wondering if this team would ever win again. Great coaching job and great effort by the players. We need to get behind these guys and cheer them to an SEC tourney victory and a place in the dance.

wigmeister writes:

If they concentrate in winning each game as it comes along, the rest will take care of itself. You can't win out without winning the first one! No matter when the season ends, this team has surpassed predictions, and I for one would like to see them go farther.

CroKev writes:

in response to OrangePride:

As the line from the play South Pacific correctly points out, "You got to have a dream/if you don't have no dream/how you gonna make dose dreams come true?" :)

Watch a lot of musicals, do ya?

thevoice writes:

in response to tennrich1:

I know you must be talking at large bids...well at least I assume you are talking that...because I think there has been plenty of 60+ to get in what with the conference tourney and all...

Right, at large. It's obvious we'll get in by winning the SEC tourney.

OrangePride writes:

in response to Dougb-VFL:

I completely agree with your entire post and you can bet ESPN will be looking crazy if we did pull that off! I am proud of this team and I don't care what tourney we play in we will be alright if we put forth our recent efforts.Now lets get ready for our football program turnaround. UT is going to be a beast in all sports next year! VFL

Amen, brother-in-orange. Amen!

OrangePride writes:

in response to CroKev:

Watch a lot of musicals, do ya?

Some.........as long as they don't interfere with my sports venues. LOL.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to CroKev:

Watch a lot of musicals, do ya?

Like you haven't seen "South Pacific".

I personally like "To Dream The Impossible Dream"...What was that one in? You prolly know!

thevoice writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEAR:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Alabama did just that last year, had a good finish, finished 1st in the west, but didn't make it. I just think we're too far down to make a sub-60 RPI. Much of it has to do with the RPI ratings of our future opponents. Based on track record, NCAA just hasn't selected teams like UT.

If we play and beat teams with low RPIs, we get in. Problem is, we don't have any of those teams on our schedule remaining.

bigsteve92 writes:

its possible to still make it but we can only afford to loose one more time and have to make a deep run in the sec tourny. its a new team with stokes adn the ncaa tourny will take that into account

Smokey91 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

Like you haven't seen "South Pacific".

I personally like "To Dream The Impossible Dream"...What was that one in? You prolly know!

The "if you don't have a dream" tune is from the song "Happy Talk" in South Pacific when Bloody Mary's daughter (really good looking island gal) and Bloody Mary (really scary looking island Mom) are trying to get the lu-ten-dant to marry the daughter. "The Impossible Dream" is from "Man of La Mancha" or something like that. It is song by Don Quixote, who was a great optimist but kind of nuts. He tried to fight a windmill. Both songs are appropriate to the BB season. Make it to the big dance of no, I have been impressed by the teams improvement and feel good about the future with Coach Zo! And say what you want about musicals, the chick in the lead role of South Pacific was hot!!! (Not the TV version but the big screen version).

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to OrangePride:

Some.........as long as they don't interfere with my sports venues. LOL.

Witch Doctor hooked on freakin "Dance Moms!" Witch Doctor be back later gotta go stretch or Abby yells at Witch Doctor!! HAHAHA
Bones never lie.
&Witch Doctor been saying it for two weeks...NIT would be huge for this team..NCAA would be WELL ahead of Sched...BUT NIT is also.

Vol43 writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

Unless we win the SEC Tournament, it's not going to happen. Losses to Austin-Peay, Oakland, and College of Charleston, coupled with the rapid decline of UConn that diminishes that win. I'm still not convinced we're going to finish the season with a winning record let alone make the NCAA tournament.

Bet your circle of friends are as depressing as you. Why even bother?

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to Vol43:

Bet your circle of friends are as depressing as you. Why even bother?

What ya have to understand about wkr is that this is a very optimistic post for him. Even though its a rule that we go if we win SEC tourney, for him to acknowledge we will go if we win SEC tourney is unprecedented optimism for him.

Vol43 writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

What ya have to understand about wkr is that this is a very optimistic post for him. Even though its a rule that we go if we win SEC tourney, for him to acknowledge we will go if we win SEC tourney is unprecedented optimism for him.

Good point!

BigOrangeSmoker writes:

Yeah this team is getting better but with a coach that knew how to coach we'd be even better,he's no teacher much less a coach.NCAA tour.i dont see it,maybe nit and even thats a question mark.martin talks NCAA tour. when he should be talking what needs to happen to beat Ark.,heck if they aint careful bama will beat em

1vavolfan writes:

Winning 5 of 6 seems like a stretch but it can be done. None of the 6 remaining games are out of reach but at the same time none are easy wins. Hopefully BAMA still has its thugs suspended Saturday. The APU game is going to hurt our NCAA chances, also Pearl scheduling games at Oakland and Charleston was foolish and may come back to haunt us as well.

iowavol writes:

Win 5 of 6 and maybe a couple in the SEC Tourney, the RPI will fall a long way The bad losses early in the season will be nixed with an 8-2 last ten games. Quality losses to KY, Memphis, Duke and Miss St mean more than you think. Quality wins against Fla, UConn and TBD - hopefully Vandy and Alabama - will be the tipping point to get them in the NCAA. Win more than you lose the rest of the way and the NIT is a sure thing.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

Like you haven't seen "South Pacific".

I personally like "To Dream The Impossible Dream"...What was that one in? You prolly know!

Gomer Pyle, USMC.

CoverOrange writes:

I really don't want to talk about 6-0 or 5-1 and getting to the dance until a long time after we win the game on Wednesday.

Rookie2 writes:

Looks like 10-6 at worst puts you in 4th place in the SEC. 11-5 gets you second place in the SEC. First things first... Arkansas Wednesday. One game at a time boys. Just take care of your bidness and the rest will take care of itself.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to springtx_vol:

I am pretty sure that the reference is for an at large selection with an RPI above 60. There are only 31 or so at large spots open. I do not remember how the play in spots change that number.

Three are 34 automatic slots, most of which will have an RPI above 60. However, the committee in the past has factored in such things as last 10 games, significant players hurt or added (Stokes), and other intangibles. If UT endes up in the SEC conference tournament finals having won 5 of the last 6, I have to believe that they would make it in. I will take even a 12-seed play-in game. Can't imagine too many 5 seeds that would want to play us on a neutral court. Other than UK, Syracuse, and maybe UNC, I can't imagine too many other teams wanting to play us. We are remarkably like the Butler teams from years past, tough defense, smart plan, good athletes. We just need to hit our free throws.

Actually, it is the conference automatic bids who have the lower average RPI and such. About half of the automatic-qualifier conferences won't have a single team with above a 150 or so RPI. The at-large teams HAVE to have higher ratings because they have to be able to say, or have said about them, "Yeah, they didn't win their conference but they beat X-number of other good teams and might have won any number of OTHER conferences."

johnlg00 writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

Unless we win the SEC Tournament, it's not going to happen. Losses to Austin-Peay, Oakland, and College of Charleston, coupled with the rapid decline of UConn that diminishes that win. I'm still not convinced we're going to finish the season with a winning record let alone make the NCAA tournament.

But if they do win out and make the NCAAs, I'm sure you'll try to find some way to minimize it. "Yeah, well, they'll get knocked out in the first round....Yeah, they got lucky again, but they'll get crushed in the Sweet Sixteen....Well, they got a lucky matchup and the other team's main guys fouled out....etc., etc." See, I've just saved you about three weeks worth of posts. Don't mention it.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to OrangePride:

As the line from the play South Pacific correctly points out, "You got to have a dream/if you don't have no dream/how you gonna make dose dreams come true?" :)

Good one! How about that other old blast from the past: "High Hopes"?

johnlg00 writes:

in response to budd#207344:

Funny that we are now arguing about whether we can make the dance. Not so long ago we were wondering if this team would ever win again. Great coaching job and great effort by the players. We need to get behind these guys and cheer them to an SEC tourney victory and a place in the dance.

Speaking of which, I hope all you folks within range can get out to TBA and show these guys all the love you are professing. There should be plenty of tickets, either from the box office or on the streets. These guys deserve your support. They are trying to do what NOBODY thought they could do.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to EightLetters:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You don't have much chance of fulfilling your dream of writing a relevant post, but, bless your heart, you keep trying. Gotta admire that persistence in the face of constant failure.

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