CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Heading into the regular-season finale, the Tennessee Volunteers are a long shot for the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Barring the team's first Southeastern Conference tournament title since the Reagan administration, it seems unlikely that Cuonzo Martin and the Vols will be invited even with a win today against Vanderbilt.
That we're even discussing the Vols and the postseason without waiting for the punch line is a testament to the job Martin has done in his first season in Knoxville. In fact, forget the SEC honors: If Martin somehow finds a way to get these Vols -- a collection of misfit pieces picked to finish 11th in the 12-team SEC before the season -- he deserves national coach of the year recognition.
But as good as Martin has been, would these Vols be better if Bruce Pearl had not been fired? Remember that before running crossways with and lying to the NCAA, Pearl reached a high-water mark with UT basketball, reaching seven straight NCAA tournaments and coming within a basket of reaching the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
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