Trae Golden is the first to tell you that he didn't do a good job getting or finding his teammates in good position in Tennessee's 62-50 loss at Alabama on Saturday.
But ask the Vols' sophomore starting point guard about the position UT finds itself in with four games remaining in the regular season, and his mood brightens.
"I think right now we're in a good spot," Golden said Monday. "Being tied for fourth is a good place to be in with four games remaining, and I think we're playing our best basketball right now."
Tennessee (14-13, 6-6) plays host to Ole Miss (15-11, 5-7) at 7 p.m. Wednesday (TV: CSS) at Thompson-Boling Arena having won four straight and 10 of its past 11 at home.
Golden's starting back-court mate Skylar McBee said the Vols' thoughts don't go beyond the Rebels, who lead the SEC with 38.6 rebounds per game and rank second in league games with a plus-4.5 rebounding advantage.
"I don't think we're worried about going to the (NCAA) tournament or not going to the tournament," McBee said. "We're just focused on getting ready for Ole Miss right now."
Kentucky coach John Calipari and UT coach Cuonzo Martin said Monday that they believe the SEC will get at least five teams into the NCAA tournament.
Martin said the Vols are one of the teams outside of the SEC's top five that are hovering.
"Right now, you'd say on paper maybe five...six?" said Martin, whose team is in a four-way tie for fourth. "The guys on paper, Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Mississippi State ... there's five, bona fide, unless someone completely falls on their face.
"You have other teams out there hovering; I think we are. For us, it's finishing strong down the stretch and winning games in the tournament."
Calipari said he believes the Vols are one of
two SEC teams outside the current top five that are capable of going on a run at the league tournament in New Orleans on March 8-11.
"I think we've got five teams that will be in (the NCAA tournament), and if somebody crazy, one of those other teams wins our tournament, we may have six in," Calipari said on the SEC teleconference on Monday. "What our league has done non-conference, and playing each other, we've got five teams in.
"If someone goes into the tournament and goes on a crazy run, and let me tell you something, the other teams can do that," he said. "We played Tennessee, ask Florida about Tennessee, ask them. Arkansas, now Arkansas loses a tough game to Florida. They hadn't lost at home. What if one of those two teams goes on a crazy run and wins the tournament? "They're capable. Now all the sudden, we've got six teams in."
RPI Numbers: UT is currently No. 111 in the RPI rankings. Here's where the other SEC teams rank, according to the ratings released on Monday by the NCAA: Kentucky (No. 4), Florida (No. 17), Vanderbilt (No. 24), Alabama (No. 37), Mississippi State (No. 59), Ole Miss (No. 62), LSU (No. 63), Arkansas (No. 87), Georgia (No. 117), Auburn (No. 125) and South Carolina (No. 180).
Hall Suspension: Martin said there's no change in status for suspended junior center Kenny Hall, who was suspended indefinitely last Wednesday for conduct detrimental to the team.
"Kenny Hall, his status is day to day, whenever I decide if I bring him back this season," Martin said.
Hall has missed the past two games, and is neither practicing nor traveling with the team during the suspension.
Hall started 16 of the 25 games he played in this season, averaging 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds, and he leads the team with 25 blocked shots.
Defensive Prowess: UT is allowing 61 points per conference game, which puts the Vols on pace to have their best defensive effort since the 1968-69 season.
Attendance Slippage: The Vols are still on the outside looking in at the nation's top five in attendance, averaging 17,116 per home game.
Wisconsin ranks fifth at 17,175 and has games remaining against Minnesota (Feb. 28) and Illinois (March 4).
UT has ranked in the top five in the nation in attendance the past six seasons and has home games remaining with Ole Miss (Wednesday) and Vanderbilt (March 3).
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32