Martin: Vols staying with current lineup
Martin on LSU, SEC standings
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.