Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble to make NCAA tournament

Three keys for UT to receive an at-large bid

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin calls to his players during the second half against Vanderbilt at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, March 3, 2012.  Tennessee won 68-61 over Vanderbilt.  (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin calls to his players during the second half against Vanderbilt at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, March 3, 2012. Tennessee won 68-61 over Vanderbilt. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Cuonzo Martin on the SEC and NCAA tournaments

NEW ORLEANS — If you're a Tennessee fan hoping the Vols make it into the NCAA men's basketball tournament, you'll want to pull for Memphis in the Conference USA tournament.

Really.

Welcome to March Madness and a vantage point from within the Big Orange Bubble, a mythical place where bitter rivals like the Tigers can become the Vols' best friends.

Tennessee (18-13, 10-6 SEC) is taking the approach it controls its own destiny heading into the SEC tournament. As the No. 2 seed, UT opens play on Friday (TV: WVLT, 7:30 p.m.) against the winner of Thursday's game (TV: MyVLT, 7:30 p.m.) between No. 7-seed Ole Miss (18-12, 8-8) and No. 10-seed Auburn (15-15, 5-11).

"We can't worry about the bubble, or other teams or what-ifs,'' Tennessee senior Cameron Tatum said Tuesday. "We're going with the mindset to win the SEC tournament.''

That's the only way the Vols can assure themselves of an NCAA tournament bid.

Otherwise, UT has to hope for an at-large bid, and that's where things get dicey.

Three keys to the Vols landing an at-large bid:

1. Hope strong mid-major teams that won their conference regular season also win their league tournament.

Of the 68 teams in the field, 31 are there via their conference's automatic bid. Thirty leagues, including the SEC, give their automatic bid to their tournament champion. The Ivy League gives its bid to the regular-season champ.

In some cases, a mid-major conference's regular-season champion can be good to get an at-large bid if it doesn't win its league tournament.

Memphis is an example, and the Tigers winning is doubly sweet for the Vols because they played them twice, and Memphis' success has a positive effect on UT's RPI (Ratings Percentage Index). If Memphis doesn't win Conference USA, the team that does gets the automatic bid, thus a potential at-large bid could be off the table.

Other strong mid-majors UT will root for to win their league tournaments are: Long Beach State (Big West), Weber State (Big Sky), Akron (Mid-American Conference), Nevada (Western Athletic Conference) and UNLV (Mountain West).

2. Win the beauty pageant among other major conference hopefuls.

Once the automatic bids are doled out, the NCAA selection committee chooses 37 at-large teams.

The RPI is the most standard measurement used to pick at-large teams and seed the tournament. The RPI is a computer ranking taking into account a team's winning percentage, its opponents' winning percentage, and its opponents' opponents winning percentage. Extra value is added for road wins.

Tennessee's current RPI is 75, which in itself would not bode well.

But the committee considers other factors, such as: a team's record vs. RPI top 50, RPI top 100, quality road wins, bad losses and roster changes/health.

UT is 4-7 against top 50 RPI teams and 7-9 against the top 100. That's not bad, but the Vols also have four losses to teams outside the top 100 ranked teams in the RPI: at Georgia (112 RPI), at the College of Charleston (123 RPI), at Oakland (145 RPI), and most damning, at home to Austin Peay (192 RPI).

UT hopes the selection committee weighs heavily that only one of those losses (Georgia) occurred after the addition of freshman starter Jarnell Stokes. The Vols are 10-5 since Stokes' mid-term arrival.

UT also hopes other major-conference bubble teams stumble in league tournaments, such as: Xavier and St. Joseph's (Atlantic 10), Texas (Big 12), Northwestern and Illinois (Big Ten), Oregon and Arizona (Pac-12) North Carolina State and Miami, Fla. (Atlantic Coast Conference), and Seton Hall, South Florida and West Virginia (Big East).

3. Win their side of the SEC tournament bracket.

The best-case scenario for UT begins with Ole Miss beating Auburn.

The Vols need as many wins possible to enhance their resume — the win over Division II Chaminade doesn't count in the eyes of the NCAA tournament nor NIT — but UT also needs an RPI boost.

The Vols would benefit more by beating the Rebels (58 RPI) than Auburn (141 RPI).

Also, Mississippi State (65 RPI) has been projected in the field since bubble talk first surfaced, and Ole Miss is still under consideration. UT is in control of finishing ahead of both teams in New Orleans, further enhancing its image and legitimacy as the SEC's No. 2 team.

Conclusion: ESPN's Joe Lunardi said its "possible" UT gets into the NCAA tournament with one win at the SEC tournament, and "probable" the Vols get a bid with two wins. As of Tuesday night, Lunardi had UT listed second in the "First Four Out" category, which is why the Vols need at least one and probably two victories to make what would be the program's seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and maintain the longest active streak in the SEC.

The worst-case post-season scenario seems to be a bid to the NIT. Former Vols coach Don DeVoe, an NIT committee member, said he believes UT is in "good shape" on that front. The NIT selects its 32-team field using the same criteria as the NCAA tournament selection committee.

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

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Comments » 46

redskinvol1 writes:

Three wins and they all shut up.

utfpmd writes:

Hard to believe we are even having this discussion.

Stooley_Dinks writes:

After the Austin Peay loss, I was sick and convinced that 1 loss would be the difference in the post season. Of course, at that time, I thought it was the NIT.

Joe Lunardi never gets them all right and betting on 1 win to push us from the 1st 4 out to last 4 in is super risky. I think we have to win 2 to have a shot and then there are just too many moving parts to consider it a guarantee. And, if we do lose in the SEC Tourney, it just cannot be an ugly one.

The 1 factor that I believe will help us the most is the strong finish. But, we just need to win it all. I have never witnessed it and it is time.

graphpro#231211 writes:

Making the dance would be nice. However, it may be better for this team to go win the NIT.
A championship of any kind may do more for future confidence than a one and done in the big dance.

Maybe CM can fill the few voids on the team this off season (point guard and shooting guard) and be a big time contender in the big dance next year. He's done a heck of a job with this team thus far.

papavol writes:

in response to graphpro#231211:

Making the dance would be nice. However, it may be better for this team to go win the NIT.
A championship of any kind may do more for future confidence than a one and done in the big dance.

Maybe CM can fill the few voids on the team this off season (point guard and shooting guard) and be a big time contender in the big dance next year. He's done a heck of a job with this team thus far.

I agree with you for the most part. considering the fact that most thought the NIT was unreachable after the Vandy loss. Still it would be awesome to get into the NCAAT. I believe that this team could possibly make a deep run as they seem to get better and better every game. It would just suck to see a talented team get left out of the tourney because of the early season losses. But hey, at least they don't use the BCS system for basketball.

lafollette37766 writes:

Go for broke and win the SEC Tourny then there will be no doubt about the NCAA.

vol64 writes:

A succinct , informative analysis by Mike. Like some of the other comments, regardless of the out come of scenarios 1 and 2 above, I too believe it will take 2 wins in New Orleans to get us in the Big Show.

GerryOP writes:

It's now a 9 game season ... win 'em all.

Yeah ... it's possible.

SummittsCourt writes:

2 wins should be a lock guarantee bet the bank on it for the NCAA tourney. With the resume UT has 1 win should be enough.

Keep in mind, 19-14, 8-8 got the team in the dance last year.

However, a loss in our first game puts them in the NIT - still, not bad considering what this season was looking like early on and especially since they were supposed to finish 11th in the SEC.

Still, it will be sad if Vandy & Florida and UConn get in when UT was 4-1 against those teams.

underthehill writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

2 wins should be a lock guarantee bet the bank on it for the NCAA tourney. With the resume UT has 1 win should be enough.

Keep in mind, 19-14, 8-8 got the team in the dance last year.

However, a loss in our first game puts them in the NIT - still, not bad considering what this season was looking like early on and especially since they were supposed to finish 11th in the SEC.

Still, it will be sad if Vandy & Florida and UConn get in when UT was 4-1 against those teams.

2 wins and UT is in..having this chance is far more than any UT fan could reasonably expect. Hope they do it..

Sir_Spanky writes:

After what they did to Alabama last year you can't assume anything with these little fellas.

VOLsince68 writes:

I'll be honest. If we made it to the SEC tourney, I would've been happy. The fact that we ended up the #2 seed in the tourney and that we are even in the discussion for an NCAA bid is mind boggling. CCM really turned this thing around. Two months ago, it looked like we were headed for a losing season. Now, we're staring face to face with a potential NCAA bid. That is an awesome accomplishment.

GO VOLS!!!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I don't know what will happen? But like all the fans in the country out there rooting for their teams I'm thinking we should be in regardless.

1. great winning at the end of season!
2. Vast improvement over early in year.
3. arguably a top conference with the only team in our conference as the #1 team in the country. That said? they left out a team or 2 last year.
4. 2 players on the all conference teams with no doubt some others considered.
5. Best free throws in the clutch.(not a criteria but I like it)
6. The ONLY team with a shot at beating Kentucky this year in SEC and perhaps in the country. we'll definitely match up better this time around.
7. We have a very much improved point guard.
8. The powers that be WANT to see Stokes play some more. Perhaps Maymon as well? I do anyhow.
9. Our coach HAS to be at least on the ballot for coach of the year.
10. MOST importantly!! We have a fantastic following to attend NCAA Tourney games.

If they don't take us then the powers that be don't know S%^%$#$! Uh ohhhh! We're toast.!

FanNotSheep writes:

I would rather get in the NCAA than the NIT, but will be proud of the team either way. The NCAA appearance validates the coaching job Martin has done, and you have no guarantees of success in either tourney. I think seeing UT as your first round opponent would not be pleasant for most 6- or 7-seeds. Unless we were to beat UK and win it all in the Big Easy, a 10 or 11 seems likely. And I'd rather see an 11 seed because if you get to the next round you're up against a 3 seed. I believe the Vols can compete against anyone, but I prefer that path.

Thanks, Griff, for the info to help us know who to pull for and against.

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to VOLsince68:

I'll be honest. If we made it to the SEC tourney, I would've been happy. The fact that we ended up the #2 seed in the tourney and that we are even in the discussion for an NCAA bid is mind boggling. CCM really turned this thing around. Two months ago, it looked like we were headed for a losing season. Now, we're staring face to face with a potential NCAA bid. That is an awesome accomplishment.

GO VOLS!!!

You're getting ahead of yourself. This ain't baseball; everyone gets in this tournament. But I will admit UT has gone home so fast some years they were hard to notice.

JayTee writes:

Don't worry the NCAA selection committee will figure out how to screw the SEC again.
If the second place team in the SEC can't get into the tournament we definitely have a problem.

lomas98 writes:

in response to graphpro#231211:

Making the dance would be nice. However, it may be better for this team to go win the NIT.
A championship of any kind may do more for future confidence than a one and done in the big dance.

Maybe CM can fill the few voids on the team this off season (point guard and shooting guard) and be a big time contender in the big dance next year. He's done a heck of a job with this team thus far.

I have seen the question asked before, win the NIT or lose first round of NCAA. I take losing first round of NCAA any day. The exposure and excitement cannot be matched. It gets even better if they win a game, which is always possible. Only the fans of the school care if they win the NIT, recruits and other fans don't care. But they are watching the NCAA. I have never even watched the NIT unless TN was in, and I don't even remember when that was. People also think by getting in the NIT we would win. We could lose in the first round in it with it being a one game do or die situation. So, what is better, losing in first round of NCAA or losing in first round of NIT?

PHAT_VOL writes:

in response to utfpmd:

Hard to believe we are even having this discussion.

Why is it hard to belive? Coach Martin layed out the season last fall. He said we will be a totally different team in Feb. And we are. Back in Jan or the first of Feb he said we are a NCAA tourneyment team and we are. Mr. Hamilton hit the jackpot on this hire. Coach Martin is the real deal.
Like Golden said He Don't Play NO Games.
Just ask Kenny Hall.
GO VOLS !!!

lomas98 writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

2 wins should be a lock guarantee bet the bank on it for the NCAA tourney. With the resume UT has 1 win should be enough.

Keep in mind, 19-14, 8-8 got the team in the dance last year.

However, a loss in our first game puts them in the NIT - still, not bad considering what this season was looking like early on and especially since they were supposed to finish 11th in the SEC.

Still, it will be sad if Vandy & Florida and UConn get in when UT was 4-1 against those teams.

Every year is different and the history of picking teams really doesn't tell us anything about future tournaments. Last year's team had a very high RPI and I believe a top 5 strength of schedule. If it wasn't top 5, it was close. Wins over the 2 Big East teams last year still were very good because both of those teams were still highly ranked, unlike UConn this year. Even the losses to Oakland and Charleston last year were not considered as bad because they were better teams last year. We also had a win over VCU last year and combined with wins over Pitt and Nova really carried us.

tennlions writes:

Lomas, it was me who posted the NIT question a few days ago. I originally felt like the experience of making a very deep run (if not winning) the NIT would benefit this young team more than getting bounced in the first round of the Dance. However, you make some excellent points about recruiting and popularity(or lack thereof) of the NIT. I also have come to believe that this team could reasonably make the Sweet 16 (with the right matchup) and I'll take that over anything in the NIT.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to Sir_Spanky:

After what they did to Alabama last year you can't assume anything with these little fellas.

One of the better posts I've seen. What they did to Bama last yr was a joke. On top of that, Zo won his conference regular season with a 44 RPI last yr and was left out. He lost the conference tourney championship game. One thing I noticed was how his team continually improved at Missouri State. Think this team will be very dangerous next year.

2008–2009 Missouri State 11–20 3–15 10th in conf.
2009–2010 Missouri State 24–12 8–10 7th in conf.
2010–2011 Missouri State 26–9 15–3 1st in conf.

2011–2012 Tennessee 18–13 10–6 T–2nd in conf.

I think win 2 and we are a lock. Win 1 and we still might get in, but would need help. Again, I hate to get ahead of myself, but I can't stop thinking about how dominant this team will be next yr.

John_10065 writes:

in response to utfpmd:

Hard to believe we are even having this discussion.

Not really, I was like saying to myself "Coach Who?" when he got hired. But the more I read up on this guy's resume and the more his peers, his players, his former team mates and opponents talked about him, the more I liked him.

I knew last year that this was going to be a very suprising hire and how we all would be happy at the end of the season regardless of post season play and inspite of what the so called fans on this site thought!

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to RockyTopRenegade:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I agree. His team has what it takes to be good in tourney play. That being a VERY good half court D, solid half court offense, strong guard play, and clutch FT shooting.

givehim6 writes:

in response to lafollette37766:

Go for broke and win the SEC Tourny then there will be no doubt about the NCAA.

I like this philosophy, win the SEC and the guess work does not matter, UT can just think about what needs to be done in the NCAA. 9 times out of 10 this may mean beating UK.

vols2016 writes:

we were picked 11th in the SEC a the beginning of the year. in my eyes, this season is already a huge success. that being said, this is such an incredibly different team that lost to Austin Peay early in the year. the committee has to understand that much, so one win should do it, but two(and obvioulsy three) will out us in great shape.

Go Vols and Thank you Coach Martin for such a great season, no matter what happens.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to givehim6:

I like this philosophy, win the SEC and the guess work does not matter, UT can just think about what needs to be done in the NCAA. 9 times out of 10 this may mean beating UK.

Didn't Stokes say that he wasn't going to lose to Kentucky again? Would like to put that to the test.

CoverOrange writes:

Does anyone else think it's cool we have Chris Rock as one of our assistants?

ReverendOrange writes:

The plan is simple and straight forward: win the next game. That should be the goal for the team the rest of the week. Amen.

givehim6 writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Didn't Stokes say that he wasn't going to lose to Kentucky again? Would like to put that to the test.

I'm with you on that. It would be a great payback to beat UK at there game.

SeminaryVol writes:

Does anyone know why Ole Miss is still in the discussion along with and sometimes ahead of us? Why is their RPI so high?

PUL4VOLS writes:

The regular season ended much better than it began. We know not how the SEC NIT nor NCAA tournaments will go. This bunch has a lot to celebrate already. I still want to have 20 wins and that means we have to have two more. It would be best in the SEC tourney. For it looks as if that would put them in the Big Dance. Even if they end up NIT-ing, my hat's off to them and I wish them the best. For now, go get Auburn/Ole Miss guys. GO BIG ORANGE!

Razzle writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Does anyone else think it's cool we have Chris Rock as one of our assistants?

Yes. lol

volboy81 writes:

in "GOOD SHAPE" for the NIT? I would hope so!
Win 2 and we should be in, but like was said earlier, it didnt help BUMMER last year! (but then, nothing could help them...on any front or level.) GO VOLS!

SevenT writes:

Martin is certainly a big improvement over the slimy sweaty Bruce Pearl. But what I don't understand is why Martin wears that stupid orange jacket.

lemme_axya_this writes:

in response to SevenT:

Martin is certainly a big improvement over the slimy sweaty Bruce Pearl. But what I don't understand is why Martin wears that stupid orange jacket.

Same reason you grow stupid blue grass.

UT4prez writes:

in response to papavol:

I agree with you for the most part. considering the fact that most thought the NIT was unreachable after the Vandy loss. Still it would be awesome to get into the NCAAT. I believe that this team could possibly make a deep run as they seem to get better and better every game. It would just suck to see a talented team get left out of the tourney because of the early season losses. But hey, at least they don't use the BCS system for basketball.

I'll add another plus to making the NCAA over the NIT. Even if we lost a first round NCAA game this year, that experience would be huge for the returning players. Pretty much no one outside Tatum has much NCAA experience right now and he'll be gone. The atmosphere and pressure of the NIT can't be the same, especially if you get a home game or two.

AWM93 writes:

The only thing CCM has to get Tenn ready for is to play against Auburn/Ole Miss. That the only thing they need to worry about. Take it game at a time. Dont over look Auburn/Ole Miss. Bc they want to make it to the big dance as bad as Tenn do. So they cant over look anybody. CCM for COY!!! GO VOls!!!

tovolny writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

One of the better posts I've seen. What they did to Bama last yr was a joke. On top of that, Zo won his conference regular season with a 44 RPI last yr and was left out. He lost the conference tourney championship game. One thing I noticed was how his team continually improved at Missouri State. Think this team will be very dangerous next year.

2008–2009 Missouri State 11–20 3–15 10th in conf.
2009–2010 Missouri State 24–12 8–10 7th in conf.
2010–2011 Missouri State 26–9 15–3 1st in conf.

2011–2012 Tennessee 18–13 10–6 T–2nd in conf.

I think win 2 and we are a lock. Win 1 and we still might get in, but would need help. Again, I hate to get ahead of myself, but I can't stop thinking about how dominant this team will be next yr.

Did you even read what Mike said? He spent a lot of time putting together several scenarios for us. You just wadded up a master piece, through it in the can, and came back with some kind of hunch. Do you realize you rub most of us the wrong way. We have named you as an honorary member of the Society of the Uninformed. Sorry, but it always seems to me that you post just for the sake of posting.

The Witch Doctor is the model poster. ..very concise...never more than four lines...but always says a lot.

You just provide a poor paraphrased bunch of words.

BolivrBob writes:

Win a game in the SEC tourney and we'll talk. Ole Miss will be tough for us to beat on a neutral court

UTByrd writes:

in response to utfpmd:

Hard to believe we are even having this discussion.

I hear ya! Coach Zo has done a tremendous job.

Go VOLS and LADYVOLS!!!!!

volcraze writes:

in response to JayTee:

Don't worry the NCAA selection committee will figure out how to screw the SEC again.
If the second place team in the SEC can't get into the tournament we definitely have a problem.

Thank You very much. That is what I keep saying. Second Place in the SEC--we should be in. I put us in the tourney with a 10 seed.

wagee12 writes:

The Hall falls! Louisville just punched Seton Hall out of the Big Least tourney.

RashaadSalabeb writes:

Keep fighting, working hard, and playing team ball. The rest will take care of itself. I like seeing the Vols playing with confidence again.

Go Big Orange!

volvann writes:

These discussions are too funny. 3 months ago us UT faithful were thinking, can we get to .500 and make the NIT. Now we are trying to justify why we should make the NCAA. So with that said, this year has been great. For that I have one thing to say, Thank You Coach Martin.....

bvol1inSC writes:

in response to SevenT:

Martin is certainly a big improvement over the slimy sweaty Bruce Pearl. But what I don't understand is why Martin wears that stupid orange jacket.

Go suck a big orange...

volthrunthru#658770 writes:

This team has had too many issues to make the NCAA tournament:

-coaches do not adjust
during games; team either
ignores or forgets what to do, or the
gameplan---or needs help when
opponents don’t follow script.

-loose cannon post player’s
absence costs team necessary
rotation Vs. Ole Miss.
"Me first, team last,” conduct, yet goes
to soft-hearted coach with
"how do I become a great
player like all those unselfish team
players,” knowing head coach
wants his to value team first. Same post player's
attitude appeared problematic for much of his
time in Knoxville.

-point guard had rather shoot
than distribute, makes enough
bad decisions in big games that
Vol Network's knowledgeable
analyst says multiple times
" a bad decision; or (pt. guard)
is not able to guard _______"(fill in
the opposing player’s name, ) or "why in
the world did (pt.guard) shoot that then?".

- wing shoots seven misses in a
row, yet has the crass nerve to
shoot an eighth long range shot
& miss it, in "must win"
game for NCAA
tournament berth

-assistant coaches who cannot get
team out of Knoxville without big
city lights distracting players
enough so they are
not able to function well---
same effect the assistant coaches
produced for trips to small cities all
year, except once.

- 1st year "Big" from Africa who does
not know enough basketball to be
in the SEC yet, but is in games
anyway, to give Maymon/Stokes rest due
to already mentioned post player's
absence; sub screws up 100%
of the time (reach in, etc, etc---stuff
grade schoolers avoid, but sub
fouls quickly & gives opponents
points---then is taken out
after two minutes. Looks like SOMEBODY
would have found a way to use other 6'9"
wing in a role other than the bench,
since that young man at times has
caught fire in games---should have used him
even if he is muscled out of the way,
to give rest to starting big men---
better than beginner who can only foul.

-head coach frankly, needs
coaching on media persentation
skills. He looks at floor or
desk, stares down questioner,
licks lips three or four times,
moves tongue around with
mouth open several times, as
reporters ask; then if
question is lengthy, gives
answers too short
to become sound bites.

This team bought into the HC's philosophy. Now it is time for philosophy do deepen,
so HC can give more than now giving
Wouldn't hurt if he traded up for better
assistants in-game, who can keep players' minds
& focus on winning, as team travels, instead of being
wide-eyed tourists like country mice in the big city.
Doing ANY of that this year may have gotten the team to the NCAA with no questions.
GO VOLS

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