ESPN's Joe Lunardi on UT in NCAA tournament: I really like their chances

NEW ORLEANS – Tennessee fans are no stranger to NCAA men's basketball tournament talk, having seen the Vols make the Big Dance the past six seasons.

But this season there's a new twist; there's still work to be done at the SEC tournament for UT to extend the SEC's longest active streak of NCAA tournament appearances to seven.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi is among the experts who believe Tennessee will do just that and wind up in the field of 68.

“I really like their chances, and I like their draw in the SEC tournament,'' Lunardi said Wednesday, “and ultimately, I think the Vols are going to make it.''

The operative word being “ultimately,'' for Lunardi who also said in a teleconference that “to feel safe” UT needs to win two games at the SEC tournament.

The No. 2-seeded Vols (18-13) open play Friday (TV: WVLT, 7:30 p.m.) against the winner of Thursday's game between No. 7-seed Ole Miss (18-12) and No. 10-seed Auburn (15-15).

A win Friday is an absolute must for UT to even stay in the discussion of NCAA tournament bubble teams according to Lunardi, who authors and updates the popular “Bracketology” feature on ESPN.com and is regarded by many as the top authority on NCAA tournament field projections.

The Vols have a suspect RPI rank of 75 and four losses to teams outside of the top 100 in the RPI rankings.

“Their RPI's not good, and it can't really get good with one game (at the SEC tournament),'' Lunardi said. “Given that, if I'm pulling for Tennessee, I'd like to see them get to that semifinal game, I don't care who the (quarterfinal game) is against, and give yourself a chance there for another marquee win that would pretty much end the conversation and put you in the field.''

Lunardi said the Vols' finishing kick is their overriding factor.

“I really think in Tennessee's case you've got a 'what have you done for me lately,' '' Lunardi said, “and they've won eight of nine, including road games in the league, including at Florida.''

Lunardi suggested the mid-term addition of All-SEC Freshman center Jarnell Stokes plays a role in how the NCAA tournament selection committee views the losses to teams outside of the top 100 that occurred prior to Stokes' arrival.

Those UT losses, at Oakland, at College of Charleston and at home against Austin Peay, aren't “weighted as heavily,'' he said.

The Vols other top-100 loss, at Georgia, apparently won't be viewed as that big of a negative, either.

Lunardi, when speaking about Florida, said the Gators' road loss at Georgia, said: “It's a road game, against a not terrible team (Georgia). It's not like they lost to Georgia Southern on the road.''

While Lunardi told the News Sentinel in an e-mail on Sunday that it's possible for Tennessee to get one of the 37 at-large bids with just one win in the SEC tournament, he said on Wednesday that scenario might not prove likely.

“Now, you're talking about needing help,'' he said.

Lunardi shared an interesting note about a newer area of emphasis for the NCAA tournament selection committee that bodes well for the Vols.

“The committee has been looking more and more at who you play twice, and who you play home and away (in conference action),'' Lunardi said.

The Vols have played the SEC's other top three teams twice this season – Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt – and UT's SEC road games included three of the top four seeded teams from what was formerly the SEC West Division, Alabama, Mississippi State and LSU.

Some SEC alarmists have pointed to Alabama not making the NCAA tournament last season despite a 12-4 conference mark, but Lunardi said the Tide had another issue that prevented it from making the field.

“I know why they missed,'' he said, “it was because of their non-conference schedule number.''

Alabama finished with an RPI of 80 largely because of a schedule that ranked 114th.

UT, which according to statsheet.com has seen its RPI get bumped up to No. 74 after Tuesday's action, currently has a schedule strength ranked 32nd.

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Comments » 38

thevoice writes:

I sure hope these Vols prove me wrong, but historically the team hasn't played well in SEC Tournaments and therefore it's difficult to predict things any differently. Maybe Cuonzo is different; I sure hope so.

thevoice writes:

in response to thevoice:

I sure hope these Vols prove me wrong, but historically the team hasn't played well in SEC Tournaments and therefore it's difficult to predict things any differently. Maybe Cuonzo is different; I sure hope so.

Nothing like being first AND responding to your own comment...

It's the same philosophy I apply to Dooley's team. Show me you're different and I'll start believing it. Otherwise, I'm just going to look at your history and have low expectations.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I guess. OR you could have a little optimism. Just a little. To me things look bright in bball and football...until I'm shown different I'll have high expectations. Neither of us are right or wrong it's just how we look at things.

asleep#212036 writes:

I still can't believe they can make the field with (potentially) 14 losses but Lunardi rarely misses. The best scenario is to beat Ole Miss and then hope Mississippi State upsets Vandy, then beat MSU too. The reason? I think that even if we win two SEC tourney games, 50-50 at best given our history, the team we are competing against for that 5th SEC team in is, in fact, MSU. The NCAA would likely consider that game, if it happens, a play-in of sorts. If that plays out, I think we will be in and Martin deserves the SEC coach of the year. Even if we don't make the big dance, what he has done after Christmas gives me hope for the future. And I would further think that given the NCAA tourney's interest in us, the NIT is a foregone conclusion if we come up short. Go Vols!!!

bvol1inSC writes:

in response to thevoice:

Nothing like being first AND responding to your own comment...

It's the same philosophy I apply to Dooley's team. Show me you're different and I'll start believing it. Otherwise, I'm just going to look at your history and have low expectations.

If you can't see the difference in this team, and past Vol teams, respectfully, I must ask you if you are blind!? Moreover, I completely disagree with your "philosophy"...history is relatively meaningless. Performance is about the coaches and players...NOT about "history."

Dougb-VFL writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

I guess. OR you could have a little optimism. Just a little. To me things look bright in bball and football...until I'm shown different I'll have high expectations. Neither of us are right or wrong it's just how we look at things.

I like the way you are looking at things. Fans like you and several others are what makes us have one of the biggest fanbases in all of college.It is such a shame that we still have negative people and some of them just can't get right! Go big orange and lets prove these haters wrong in football and baketball. VFL

Fall_Creek_Vols writes:

in response to thevoice:

Nothing like being first AND responding to your own comment...

It's the same philosophy I apply to Dooley's team. Show me you're different and I'll start believing it. Otherwise, I'm just going to look at your history and have low expectations.

"Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed".

What has transpired in the past - including the events that brought Coach Martin to Knoxville - are irrelevant.

It's all about now, baby. Lunardi said as much. They're looking at what this team has done lately (which includes the addition of Stokes) and that's not a bad thing.

I remain hopeful and I am a fan of Cuonzo Martin. Have been since before he came to The Hill. That said, there is work to do...and I'll bet the team knows it.

If you must talk history, let's go back to the Bernie & Ernie days. Those were some teams who knew how to pull the upsets. This team has shown they're capable. Go Big Orange!

volinlouisvilleky writes:

in response to thevoice:

Nothing like being first AND responding to your own comment...

It's the same philosophy I apply to Dooley's team. Show me you're different and I'll start believing it. Otherwise, I'm just going to look at your history and have low expectations.

The main reason I am optimistic for this SEC tournament run is the strong half court defense Cuonzo has instilled in the team. You can have an off shooting night and still be in contention for the win if you play solid half court defense.

BrayIsTheWay writes:

in response to bvol1inSC:

If you can't see the difference in this team, and past Vol teams, respectfully, I must ask you if you are blind!? Moreover, I completely disagree with your "philosophy"...history is relatively meaningless. Performance is about the coaches and players...NOT about "history."

I wouldn't go as far and say that history is meaningless. Ever hear the concept, "History always repeats itself?" Truer words have never been spoken. Our history in the SEC tourney has rarely had a bright spot to it so Im with thevoice by saying Im not going to get my hopes up, but nonetheless the way the team looks right now we have every chance in the world to make it to Selection Sunday and still be playing basketball that afternoon. As history shows, it just depends which team shows up, December and early January Vols, or late end of the season (8 of 9) Vols. I hope for the latter.

carbonzip writes:

If Cam brings his Vanderbilt game to BR, they could win it.

BrayIsTheWay writes:

Either way, now is the time when we find out just what kind of coach we have. Do we have a coach that can keep his team focused when it counts to get the job done, or a coach who just made a hell of a run but will meet impending upset at the beginning of crunch time? The way this team is playing right now it's hard to say we're underdogs anymore, but I'd rather be the underdog. Seems our Vols always seem to play with a chip on their shoulders when the shadow of doubts are cast upon them. i.e. Our only elite 8 team that was predicted to be ousted in the first round by CBS's own Seth Davis

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to thevoice:

Nothing like being first AND responding to your own comment...

It's the same philosophy I apply to Dooley's team. Show me you're different and I'll start believing it. Otherwise, I'm just going to look at your history and have low expectations.

please keep your negative nancisms to a minimum.

This is a different team than years past or have you not been paying attention.

UT4prez writes:

I agree with the dude from Louisville. The half court D won't abandon you like the offensive-minded teams of the past few years. I get looking at past history under the same coach but we are under a new regime. They just aren't as up and down as past Vol teams. I have no worries about whether or not they come to play. They may still lose on Friday if they run into a hot team but I would be stunned if the focus and determination are lacking. I predict we win 2. Then we dance. KY beats us by 12 in the final.

GONAVY writes:

in response to asleep#212036:

I still can't believe they can make the field with (potentially) 14 losses but Lunardi rarely misses. The best scenario is to beat Ole Miss and then hope Mississippi State upsets Vandy, then beat MSU too. The reason? I think that even if we win two SEC tourney games, 50-50 at best given our history, the team we are competing against for that 5th SEC team in is, in fact, MSU. The NCAA would likely consider that game, if it happens, a play-in of sorts. If that plays out, I think we will be in and Martin deserves the SEC coach of the year. Even if we don't make the big dance, what he has done after Christmas gives me hope for the future. And I would further think that given the NCAA tourney's interest in us, the NIT is a foregone conclusion if we come up short. Go Vols!!!

I would think another defeat of VU would be far more impressive. First, Vanderbilt is a guaranteed lock for the tournament, MSU isn't. Second, VU's RPI is higher than MSU. Third, it would show the recent 7 point emotional win at home wasn't a fluke as it would come on a neutral floor in a tournament environment. Much better to play and beat Vanderbilt.

keepitreal4vols writes:

Lunardi is speaking to a Tennessee columnist and knows the audience he is speaking to. To get his true opinion, what would he say about Tennessee when speaking to media from Northwestern, Texas, UCONN, Drexel, and other bubble teams.

FWBVol writes:

in response to keepitreal4vols:

Lunardi is speaking to a Tennessee columnist and knows the audience he is speaking to. To get his true opinion, what would he say about Tennessee when speaking to media from Northwestern, Texas, UCONN, Drexel, and other bubble teams.

Yes, he knows the audience he's speaking to, but he also has a professional reputation to maintain. If he soft sells every team on the bubble with a similar song and dance it quickly becomes apparent to everyone as anyone can find the information on the internet.

This is basically the same thing Lunardi has been writing on ESPN's website all week. He has to keep his credibility or he'll be out of work pretty soon.

movinonup writes:

in response to thevoice:

I sure hope these Vols prove me wrong, but historically the team hasn't played well in SEC Tournaments and therefore it's difficult to predict things any differently. Maybe Cuonzo is different; I sure hope so.

THIS team has absolutely ZERO tournament history.
THIS coach has absolutely ZERO SEC tournament history.
THIS team and coach will start their own tournament history......GBO!

Stooley_Dinks writes:

in response to thevoice:

Nothing like being first AND responding to your own comment...

It's the same philosophy I apply to Dooley's team. Show me you're different and I'll start believing it. Otherwise, I'm just going to look at your history and have low expectations.

Voice, I will admit our history is not good, but right now, we have something that we have not had in a point guard that can "create" the hard points by hitting free throws. If you look at why the Big Ten teams play tough in tourneys, it is because they have someone who can create. Usually, that is a point guard who can get in the lane and hit a runner +1 or just draw free throws.

What has killed the Vols is no one to go to with the speed and ball-handling of a PG late in the game when you have to manufacture points. Pearl would use JP who was a small forward. Or, when we had Ramar Smith, he was not a shooter at all.

So, we have Golden playing very well, hitting 3's and getting to the line late. Plus, we are great at 2nd chance points with Maymon and Stokes and their VERY physical presence inside. In high pressure situations, you MUST manufacture points when your shots are not falling. You do that with a penetrating PG and Offensive Rebounding.

So, this year, I truly believe we provide a more difficult matchup than before when we struggled in a 1/2 court grind it out finish.

Digital5000 writes:

I like our draw in the SEC tournament, and think we have a chance to make some noise. We'll see how it shakes out.

I do know how one thing is going to shake out. The VOLS are coming down to my backyard in NOLA, and I'll be wearing so much orange through the quarter on my way to the game im going to be blinding folks.

ps - I've already attached the Vols flag to the back of the scooter. Who Dat!!! GO VOLS!!!

-Enjoy Yoselves

UTByrd writes:

I want to believe, I want to believe, please, make me a believer. The last few years have been hard on all of us VOL fans. I admit I got my hopes up with Kiffin, disgruntled about the baseball team, worried about Coach Pat, but am still feeling good about Coach Dooley.
I surely hope that the basketVols, as well as the Lady Vols, continue to renew my faith in the VolNation and lets all March into the Madness together.

Go VOLS and LADY VOLS!!!!!

pomp_and_circumstance writes:

For sure. Why worry about any of it. These Vols have grit and tenacity (all Martin) and will gouge out what ever they can. Don't expect miracles, and don't be shocked if they win the SEC tourney. Anything goes with this team, and all is for the good and better. My God, a 17 year old high scooler who didn't have the proper color Addis 20 inch shoes to wear? What more exciting drama could you wish for?

UT4prez writes:

in response to ScoonerTN:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Just call it like I see it and try to keep it realistic. Going deeper I'll call a 7 point win over Ole Miss and an 8 point win over Miss St. My gut tells me Vandy would beat us but we are capable of winning them all. So whatcha think Scooner? Love to hear your thoughts sir.

Razzle writes:

in response to BrayIsTheWay:

I wouldn't go as far and say that history is meaningless. Ever hear the concept, "History always repeats itself?" Truer words have never been spoken. Our history in the SEC tourney has rarely had a bright spot to it so Im with thevoice by saying Im not going to get my hopes up, but nonetheless the way the team looks right now we have every chance in the world to make it to Selection Sunday and still be playing basketball that afternoon. As history shows, it just depends which team shows up, December and early January Vols, or late end of the season (8 of 9) Vols. I hope for the latter.

Sometimes history repeats itself and sometimes it does not.

volvann writes:

Talk, talk, talk, yabadabadoo.... Win game one of SEC tournament, then we will jabber and chat. Until that happens, shhhhhh... GoVols win and make all the chatty cathy's be quiet......

bvol1inSC writes:

in response to BrayIsTheWay:

I wouldn't go as far and say that history is meaningless. Ever hear the concept, "History always repeats itself?" Truer words have never been spoken. Our history in the SEC tourney has rarely had a bright spot to it so Im with thevoice by saying Im not going to get my hopes up, but nonetheless the way the team looks right now we have every chance in the world to make it to Selection Sunday and still be playing basketball that afternoon. As history shows, it just depends which team shows up, December and early January Vols, or late end of the season (8 of 9) Vols. I hope for the latter.

Since you are "splitting hairs" with me - I'll return the favor. I said history is RELATIVELY meaningless. And for every time you show me that history repeats itself, I can show a time where it did not. Truer words have never been spoken??? If you say history = experience, then I can buy in to your philosophy somewhat. Let's not quibble where we are probably in violent agreement!...GO BIG ORANGE!

bvol1inSC writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEAR:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING 'BOUT! Thanks BV...

JayTee writes:

Lunardi doesn't know any more than anyone else on who is in or out.
When the NCAA selection gets through with the selection process people like him are on ESPN b**ching because the at large teams they had weren't selected.
It happens every year.

Digital5000 writes:

in response to ScoonerTN:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Its New Orleans. I can have a scooner on the scooter. Amen to that, and god bless NOLA and the VOLS.

-Enjoy Yoselves

SeminaryVol writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I think Ernie and Bernie lost to one of Behiem's first Syracuse teams.

Bubba_Knows writes:

in response to movinonup:

THIS team has absolutely ZERO tournament history.
THIS coach has absolutely ZERO SEC tournament history.
THIS team and coach will start their own tournament history......GBO!

One more:

This coach deserves "Coach of the Year!"

VolJunkie writes:

What a difference a year makes. It has been so much fun watching this team play this year ... even through the tough losses. CCM has them playing great defensive TEAM basketball and it is coming together at just the right time. Keep winning and the invites will take care of themselves.

Fasten your seatbelts.

Go Vols!

volinlouisvilleky writes:

in response to UT4prez:

Just call it like I see it and try to keep it realistic. Going deeper I'll call a 7 point win over Ole Miss and an 8 point win over Miss St. My gut tells me Vandy would beat us but we are capable of winning them all. So whatcha think Scooner? Love to hear your thoughts sir.

Scooner would NEVER tell you we could win them all....Big Blue Abomination would tell you if they lose it's because of the refs. I live around them and this is ture and they know it! oGsloV!

tennlions writes:

I watched CCM play at Purdue and I can tell you that he coaches just like he played...tough, gritty and determined. His team has adopted his personality and getting 2 wins should be fairly routine business.

volboy81 writes:

in response to Bubba_Knows:

One more:

This coach deserves "Coach of the Year!"

AGREED! Cheatin' Calipari getting coach of the year is a joke. A blind mule could have coached that team to a good record....you have the best talent in the country and one of the Top 5 traditionly good BB schools and you win a championship! Yeah, good going!! isnt that what was expected? CUONZO GOT ROBBED.

volcraze writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

I guess. OR you could have a little optimism. Just a little. To me things look bright in bball and football...until I'm shown different I'll have high expectations. Neither of us are right or wrong it's just how we look at things.

We look at it the same way. I see great things in UT's near future.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to keepitreal4vols:

Lunardi is speaking to a Tennessee columnist and knows the audience he is speaking to. To get his true opinion, what would he say about Tennessee when speaking to media from Northwestern, Texas, UCONN, Drexel, and other bubble teams.

Well, as of last night, he had the Vols at the top of his "last four out" list, which sounds bad until you realize that means they are the NEXT team IN if they get the two wins and anybody in the "last four in" loses in a tournament. They may not even need that help if they win two. I expect the Vols to have a tough time tonight, but I think they will snag the win. To leave no doubt of their selection, they need to hope they play and BEAT Vandy on Saturday. Even so, the only way to look at their task, starting at 7:30 tonight, is to play their hardest and best every possession and let the future take care of itself.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I'm not entirely sure about who the Vols lost to in that NCAA game you are talking about, but I do remember that Bernard didn't play in that game because of a bad ankle. The might-have-beens regarding that team haunt me to this day. In assessing Mears' relative lack of success in the NCAAs, remember that the field was MUCH smaller in those days. Nearly every one of his teams would have gotten in today's expanded field, and you can be sure some of them would have done very well indeed.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Razzle:

Sometimes history repeats itself and sometimes it does not.

Mark Twain said that history doesn't repeat itself, but it RHYMES. That is, events rarely repeat exactly, but common themes link them in every era.

Take an example from military history. In the Americans' first major battle in the African campaign in WWII, a green US Army got waxed by Rommel's Afrika Korps at the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. Everybody, allies and enemies alike, said that showed the Americans just were not great fighters. Just a month or two later, Patton took command of that demoralized army, gave them confidence through hard training and discipline, and chased the Germans right out of Africa and didn't stop chasing them until the last day of the war. The only significant between that defeated Army and the one that won the war was Patton's leadership.

Not to put down the coaches who came before Martin, but I just think he has these guys believing that they can and must play with and defeat any team in the country right now. When he talks to them about the big picture, he shows them that the biggest pictures are made up, in this digital age, of microscopic pixels, i.e., individual plays, that must be in place for the full picture to emerge. This is the team's chance to paint a masterpiece, one tough-minded play, or pixel, at a time.

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