Tennessee is on the NCAA tournament's proverbial bubble, but don't expect coach Cuonzo Martin to change the routine or lose a wink of sleep worrying about the myriad of scenarios.
"Whatever the numbers are, there's nothing we can do but play games and win games,'' Martin said on Sunday. "We control our own situation. Whoever we play against, all we can do is everything in our power to win that game.''
The Vols (18-13, 10-6 SEC) did just that on Saturday, beating Vanderbilt (21-10, 10-6) by a 68-61 count before a sold-out crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi sent an e-mail to the News Sentinel on Sunday afternoon projecting UT at No. 70 — two spots out of the field — heading into the final week of play before the NCAA men's basketball tournament's selection Sunday.
"A win at the SEC tourney makes NCAA possible,'' Lunardi penned, "two wins makes it probable.''
The Vols' win over the Commodores, coupled with the Kentucky (30-1, 16-0) 74-59 victory over Florida (22-9, 10-6) on Sunday, put UT in a three-way tie with the Commodores and the Gators. Tennessee won the tiebreaker by virtue of its 3-1 record in the series between the three schools and was rewarded the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament.
Kentucky coach John Calipari used his Sunday post-game interview on CBS to stump for the SEC, and he specifically hyped Tennessee.
"Tennessee, I'm telling you, I said it earlier, that's an NCAA tournament team,'' Calipari said.
The Vols open the SEC tournament in New Orleans at 7:30 p.m. on Friday (TV: WVLT) against the winner of Thursday's first-round game (TV: MyVLT, 7:30 p.m.) between No. 7-seed Ole Miss (18-12, 8-8) and No. 10 Auburn (15-15, 5-11).
UT beat the Rebels 73-60 on Feb. 22 in Thompson-Boling Arena and scored a 64-49 home win over Auburn on Jan. 28.
"Ole Miss is obviously a physical team that can rebound, and they have length, athleticism and toughness; their game is to grind it out,'' Martin said. "Auburn makes you work offensively, and they move the ball well on offense themselves, working to get great shots. They don't waste possessions.''
RPI Numbers: UT's RPI improved from No. 81 to No. 75 after the win over Vanderbilt, and the schedule strength is ranked No. 33, according to statsheet.com. The NCAA typically releases on Monday's its version of the RPI rankings, which are used by the NCAA tournament selection committee when picking teams. Auburn's RPI is 137 while Ole Miss is at No. 52, so a win over the Rebels would be more valuable to the Vols' RPI.
Golden Champion: UT sophomore point guard Trae Golden finished the regular season as the SEC's top free-throw shooter with a percentage of 85.6 (104 of 121).
Golden is the first Vol to lead the SEC in that category since All-American Chris Lofton shot 84.2 percent (101 of 120) in 2007-08, and he's the third to do it in the past 20 years. Scooter McFadgon shot 91.2 percent (134 of 147) in 2003-04.
Hall's Status: Martin said the status of suspended junior center Kenny Hall remains the same.
"It depends on his everyday activities and if he does the things he's supposed to do,'' Martin said. "It's evaluated day-by-day.''
Hall was suspended indefinitely on Feb. 15 for conduct detrimental to the team and has missed the past six games.
Hall, who has not practiced with the team nor taken part in team activities, started the previous two games before his suspension and was averaging 6.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 20 minutes per contest.
Maymon's Leg: Jeronne Maymon preserved his streak of scoring at least 12 points in every SEC game this season by getting 12 on 4-of-9 shooting against Vanderbilt.
Maymon, however, awoke Saturday with a sore right knee that limited his effectiveness.
"I wasn't jumping as high as I wanted to on one of my legs,'' said Maymon, who had seven rebounds. "I just had to slow down; I was looking for more contact, but I saw how they were calling the game; they really weren't calling a lot, I liked the way they handled the game.''
Vanderbilt's Assessment: Coach Kevin Stallings said UT's physicality was the difference, and player Lance Goulbourne agreed.
"The story of the game is they were just physically tougher than we were at every spot,'' said Stallings, who starts four seniors and a junior. "They played harder and tougher than we did.''
Goulbourne, whose 12 points were second to John Jenkins' 18 on Saturday, credited UT's defense.
"Their guards are very physical; (Skylar) McBee played with physicality on the perimeter,'' Goulbourne said. "They're very tough, especially Maymon and (Jarnell) Stokes.''
Big Visitor: Junior center Sam Edwards from Oakhaven High School in Memphis was at UT's game Saturday on an unofficial visit.
Edwards, 7-foot, 250 pounds, is rated as a three-star prospect by Rivals.com and has received offers from numerous schools including Memphis, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Auburn and Nebraska.
UT remains active in the recruitment of Austin Nichols, a 6-8, 193-pound junior at Memphis Briarcrest Christian High School who is ranked No. 41 in the Rivals 150.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32