Mike Strange: Vols' path to tournament is one step at a time

Mike Strange
Tennessee celebrates after a 88-58 win over Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee celebrates after a 88-58 win over Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Martin: Vols staying with current lineup

Martin on LSU, SEC standings

Which postseason tournament will Tennessee men's basketball play in?

See the results »

View previous polls »

You string together a couple or three wins in February and the next thing you know the “T” word resurfaces.

“Anything can happen in this game,’’ Tennessee senior Kenny Hall said Monday.

Well, that’s true. Butler, enrollment 4,034, played for a national title back-to-back years.

Hardly anyone offered Chris Lofton a scholarship. Tennessee finally did and he became SEC Player of the Year.

TCU, one of the worst teams in the nation, stunned Kansas two weeks ago. The flag at the state capitol flew half-staff for a week.

And Saturday, Tennessee laid a beating of historic proportion — 88-58 — on Kentucky.

Which is why denizens of Big Orange Country can’t resist speculating what it might take to see the Vols climb back into the NCAA tournament conversation.

Short answer: It would take a lot.

Running the table through the six regular-season games might do it. Maybe 5-1 would work, if the one is Florida and it’s respectable. Win a couple more in the SEC tournament, that would help.

But what won’t help is talking the talk. All that matters for a team sitting 14-10, 6-6 SEC with an RPI of 69 is walking the walk.

“You’ve got to have a sense of urgency,’’ said junior Trae Golden. “We’re not in Louisville’s position. We’re not in Duke’s position, where we can just, you know, afford to drop a couple of games.’’

“We’ve got to make sure we’re ready every game.’’

Starting Tuesday. LSU visits Thompson-Boling Arena in what is a clash of two of the hottest teams in a not-so-hot league.

The Vols have won five of their past seven games, the Tigers five of six.

We would expect coach Cuonzo Martin to espouse the one-at-a-time mantra. When’s the last time you heard a coach predict a six-game winning streak?

“I try to stay away from looking three games ahead,’’ he said.

His players insist they’re on board.

“Last year,’’ said junior Jordan McRae, “I was really thinking about it a lot.

“We’re ‘out’ this week, we’re ‘in’ this week, that kind of stuff. It’s stressful.

“It’s not so much a distraction as an extra worry in your life you don’t need.’’

Bracketology? RPI? Talk radio chatter? Every one an extra worry Hall said he doesn’t need either.

“Between (basketball), school, at-home stuff,’’ said Hall, “I got a lot of other stuff going on.’’

Hall admits it’s tempting. A senior, he played on the 2010 team that advanced to the Elite Eight and stopped one tantalizing possession short of the Final Four.

“There’s nothing like being in the Big Dance,’’ he said. “The hotels seem different, playing on that stage is just different.

“It was one of the greatest feelings in my life as far as basketball on the college level.’’

It’s the great carrot dangling at the end of a 30-game, four-month stick.

It’s the elephant in the locker room.

“We talk about the NCAA tournament,’’ Martin said. “But I don’t say let’s try to reel off this many games in a row.’’

So in what context is this sensitive topic discussed?

“A win on the road at Vandy,’’ McRae said, “beating Kentucky how we did. He says things like ‘these are the kind of games you need to win to get in the tournament.’ ’’

At this point, they’re all the kind of games the Vols need to win.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at strangemike44 and at http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

© 2013 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Comments » 25

wigmeister writes:

Duh - movement to and getting into any tournament is always one step at a time, or one game at a time. It is that way and has always been that way in sports.

SouthPaVol writes:

The Vols dug themselves into a hole in December and January. So if one wants to get out of the hole, one should stop digging. Against the Cats last Saturday, the Vols stopped digging, with one turnover in the first half and over 50% shooting from the field.

A CCM team plays hard-nosed defense, that's a given. What we gotta do down the stretch is take care of the basketball and take high percentage shots. If the ball goes through Stokes, then we shoot high percentage shots. If we come down, dribble around at half court for 20 seconds then heave a 26 foot prayer, we probably loose. That can be prevented by going through Stokes and attacking the rim.

We gotta win 5 of the next six, with a probable drop to Florida. We are hot right now, but the Gators are playing good basketball. It's no dishonor to loose to a good team. We should, however, win the rest--even Missouri at home--if we expect a seat at the big dance. Go Vols!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

No the team can't look ahead much. The coach can't predict but one game at a time.

ME! I say final 4 baby!...well I CAN say it. at least in the SEC tourney.hehe We need two there a least.

BrassMonkey writes:

The tournament talk is un-needed at this point. They have a lot to accomplish. They had the same thing on the plate last year and they laid an egg against Ole Miss in the SEC Tourney, and then frumpily played MTSU to an embarassing season ending loss. As of now they are not a tournament team, NIT included. They have much more to do.

brod writes:

it was a good week. not time to talk ncaa tourney yet. 6-6 in the sec, 14-10 overall. that is an nit record, not ncaa record.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

I don't see a NCAA tourney in the cards..Would have to win 8 or 9 straight games and this team hasn't proven they have shed their Jekyll and Hyde image..Beating LSU and A&M would be a start..LSU is on a roll and has some shooters but they look defend able..A&M is far from a pushover at home

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

The tournament talk is un-needed at this point. They have a lot to accomplish. They had the same thing on the plate last year and they laid an egg against Ole Miss in the SEC Tourney, and then frumpily played MTSU to an embarassing season ending loss. As of now they are not a tournament team, NIT included. They have much more to do.

While I agree that the NCAA is still just a distant dream, if the season ended today, the Vols WOULD be in the NIT. Even their present RPI of 69 would place them WELL within the bracket of the 32-team NIT. I know of course that there will be teams with RPI's worse than 69 in the NCAA tournament because of the automatic bids to the lower mid-major conference champs and there will likely be teams left out of the NCAAs with RPI's perhaps considerably better than 69. I also agree that the NIT is far short of what everybody was hoping for at the beginning of the season, but if you asked the team and the coaches if they would prefer to stay home rather than go to the NIT, I think they would to a man prefer the latter.

Fans can feel however they wish about it. We can all lament the sub-par performances in the non-conference schedule and the weakness of the SEC that has put something of a ceiling on how high their RPI can rise the rest of the way. However, compared to the way everybody was feeling after losing those clank-fests at G'town and UVA, it says something for the resolve of the team that they are now within shouting of the NCAAs and a LOCK for the NIT. I would certainly agree that the main prize for this season is probably out of reach. But I would rather have a lesser prize than to go home empty-handed.

Lizardgrad89 writes:

Win the SEC tournament and go to the Dance. I don't think anything else will be enough. The SEC is just awful this year, beating SEC teams isn't going to impress the selection committee.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

I don't see a NCAA tourney in the cards..Would have to win 8 or 9 straight games and this team hasn't proven they have shed their Jekyll and Hyde image..Beating LSU and A&M would be a start..LSU is on a roll and has some shooters but they look defend able..A&M is far from a pushover at home

This is why they play the games. They don't have to win 8 or 9 or any other number straight, they just have to KEEP winning the NEXT one. All remaining teams are dangerous to a team with as little margin for error in a GIVEN game as this one, but all of them can be beaten. How many times in the last several years have we seen a Florida team come into a game against UT with clearly superior talent that just didn't show up enough that day? One may well think that that history would be enough incentive for them to come ready to play against UT, and they very well may put a whipping on the Vols.

However, they have first place in the SEC all but locked up. A loss to the Vols probably wouldn't even drop them a line in the NCAA brackets. They just don't have nearly as much to play for as the Vols do. Even the Vols have nothing to lose against Florida, since their NCAA chances are remote anyway, but if they CAN beat Florida AND win a couple in the SEC tournament, that might be all they need. Therefore, IMHO, if the Vols can just keep their heads in EACH of upcoming games as they play them, they have a chance in all of them, and that is all a team in their position can ask for. It would be foolish for us fans to wish for anything more.

CoverOrange writes:

Missouri may be the linchpin. A win against a top 50 opponent on the road would count as much if not more than a win at home against a top 10 opponent. Assuming we can return from Texas A&M, Georgia and Auburn unscathed.

We may be in better shape than Kentucky at this point.

signalcorps writes:

this is a talented young team ,,they came a long ways from the start of the season when they would come down pass once twice then shoot the ball,,,now when they come down they set their offence in motion,,,I think they learn rebounders go into motion to get to their spot under the boards,,,ball handlers in motion to get a open shot after the rebounders are in place(or will be in place) this is done in one motion...young players have a tendency to play high school ball(when they were the best player in town in college everyone is good)re bounders have to hang out around the boards,,,shooters if your shots not falling come in closer then shoot,,driving to the basket pull up five ft from the basket then shoot,,,hussle from the tip off to the final horn,,,this is all MJ did and no man or team could stop him none..I think this team is going to surprise people and themselves ...................players and coaches only

signalcorps writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

I don't see a NCAA tourney in the cards..Would have to win 8 or 9 straight games and this team hasn't proven they have shed their Jekyll and Hyde image..Beating LSU and A&M would be a start..LSU is on a roll and has some shooters but they look defend able..A&M is far from a pushover at home

no big dance this year,,,,this young team is looking much better,,,I think they learn we beat the snot out of the top recruits in the sec,,they didn't have one of their players we didn't have one of ours.........................players and coaches only

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

My UT vs LSU anaylisis..LSU Wins
LSU +8
A letdown is a very real possibility for Tennessee after the Vols' rousing 88-58 romp past Nerlens Noel-less Kentucky on Saturday. That offensive eruption was also the Vols' only game cracking the 70-point barrier in almost a month, as Cuonzo Martin's side has rarely resembled a smooth-running offensive machine with G Trae Golden (who scored 24 vs. the Cats, but whose offensive numbers are down from last season, including a mere 25.5% triples TY) enduring an erratic campaign. Meanwhile, Johnny Jones' LSU (5-1 SU last six) has been quietly surging in recent weeks as it sets itself up for a likely postseason invitation (NIT appears a good bet). Memphis transfer G Charles Carmouche is the latest Tiger to step to the fore, with a season-high 21 points in Saturday's win over Mississippi State. And Jones continues to get yeoman's work from 6-9, 262-lb. battering ram PF Johnny O'Bryant (21 ppg & 11 rpg last three).

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

sorry for mistake.."analysis". People love for you make a typo mistake.

bUTch_please writes:

There are just 2 ways to get in the dance. Have a solid season with an RPI stronger than 40..or win the conference tourney.

There isn't a lot of RPI meat left on the bone to finish this season even IF they run the table and beat FL in the mix.

Keep growing game, win the tourney and invite ourselves.

Zo VOLS!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

My UT vs LSU anaylisis..LSU Wins
LSU +8
A letdown is a very real possibility for Tennessee after the Vols' rousing 88-58 romp past Nerlens Noel-less Kentucky on Saturday. That offensive eruption was also the Vols' only game cracking the 70-point barrier in almost a month, as Cuonzo Martin's side has rarely resembled a smooth-running offensive machine with G Trae Golden (who scored 24 vs. the Cats, but whose offensive numbers are down from last season, including a mere 25.5% triples TY) enduring an erratic campaign. Meanwhile, Johnny Jones' LSU (5-1 SU last six) has been quietly surging in recent weeks as it sets itself up for a likely postseason invitation (NIT appears a good bet). Memphis transfer G Charles Carmouche is the latest Tiger to step to the fore, with a season-high 21 points in Saturday's win over Mississippi State. And Jones continues to get yeoman's work from 6-9, 262-lb. battering ram PF Johnny O'Bryant (21 ppg & 11 rpg last three).

plus eight??

Your anaylisis may work. It really depends on which UT shows up. I think we win on a last second 3 pointer by Golden. 68-67.

I really got NO clue on this one. I hope we win.

crappieking writes:

Have to win the SEC tourney to get to the dance. Next year with Maymon back and the two 4 star players coming in (Hubbs?) we should win the leauge.

Basketvol writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

My UT vs LSU anaylisis..LSU Wins
LSU +8
A letdown is a very real possibility for Tennessee after the Vols' rousing 88-58 romp past Nerlens Noel-less Kentucky on Saturday. That offensive eruption was also the Vols' only game cracking the 70-point barrier in almost a month, as Cuonzo Martin's side has rarely resembled a smooth-running offensive machine with G Trae Golden (who scored 24 vs. the Cats, but whose offensive numbers are down from last season, including a mere 25.5% triples TY) enduring an erratic campaign. Meanwhile, Johnny Jones' LSU (5-1 SU last six) has been quietly surging in recent weeks as it sets itself up for a likely postseason invitation (NIT appears a good bet). Memphis transfer G Charles Carmouche is the latest Tiger to step to the fore, with a season-high 21 points in Saturday's win over Mississippi State. And Jones continues to get yeoman's work from 6-9, 262-lb. battering ram PF Johnny O'Bryant (21 ppg & 11 rpg last three).

Is that your professional opinion? I hope not because it's pretty one-sided. How about this for an opener?

Another big win is a very real possibility for Tennessee after the Jeronne Maymon-less Vol's rousing 88 - 58 romp past classless Kentucky on Saturday.

I can be biased. I don't claim to be professional. How'd you like UT's sweep of Vandy this year?

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

Tournament is a very long shot. After all, Middle Tenn. is ranked higher in the polls than we are. Let's talk tourney in 2 weeks if UT goes 3-1 or 4-0 by then.

Basketvol writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

My UT vs LSU anaylisis..LSU Wins
LSU +8
A letdown is a very real possibility for Tennessee after the Vols' rousing 88-58 romp past Nerlens Noel-less Kentucky on Saturday. That offensive eruption was also the Vols' only game cracking the 70-point barrier in almost a month, as Cuonzo Martin's side has rarely resembled a smooth-running offensive machine with G Trae Golden (who scored 24 vs. the Cats, but whose offensive numbers are down from last season, including a mere 25.5% triples TY) enduring an erratic campaign. Meanwhile, Johnny Jones' LSU (5-1 SU last six) has been quietly surging in recent weeks as it sets itself up for a likely postseason invitation (NIT appears a good bet). Memphis transfer G Charles Carmouche is the latest Tiger to step to the fore, with a season-high 21 points in Saturday's win over Mississippi State. And Jones continues to get yeoman's work from 6-9, 262-lb. battering ram PF Johnny O'Bryant (21 ppg & 11 rpg last three).

Nice one. UT wins 82 - 72 and once again . . . you are wrong. Please don't pick us to beat Florida.

murrayvol writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

sorry for mistake.."analysis". People love for you make a typo mistake.

You missed the spread too.....by a lot.

Olddogsrule writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

sorry for mistake.."analysis". People love for you make a typo mistake.

We also love for you to be WRONG!!!!! :) As you sooo often are :-) ROTFLOL VOLS BEAT TIGERS!!!

murrayvol writes:

in response to Basketvol:

Nice one. UT wins 82 - 72 and once again . . . you are wrong. Please don't pick us to beat Florida.

No "professional handicapper" would pick us over FU but this guy might.

If the Vols play the the "Garters" the way they've played the last 2 games, they win. If not, I'm afraid we're NIT bound.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Basketvol:

Is that your professional opinion? I hope not because it's pretty one-sided. How about this for an opener?

Another big win is a very real possibility for Tennessee after the Jeronne Maymon-less Vol's rousing 88 - 58 romp past classless Kentucky on Saturday.

I can be biased. I don't claim to be professional. How'd you like UT's sweep of Vandy this year?

It's always a good sign for me when ol' PH picks against the Vols. All that picking and choosing among the reams of available stats on which to base a point-spread is an excercise in misplaced definiteness and just shows that gambling is the triumph of hope over experience.

JeffKno writes:

The Georgetown loss was huge, as was the losses to Virginia and Ole Miss. With Maymon the Vols win all three and are in the tourney--They are definitely in the Top 62 teams in the nation but the damage has already been done--will take 19 or 20 wins in regular season and at least one win in the SEC tourney to get a chance--GO VOLS!!! Next year is going to to great!!!

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features