Cuonzo Martin on upcoming rematch with Ole Miss
Opportunities await both Tennessee basketball teams in the next few days. The ramifications might not be apparent until March when postseason tournament selections are completed.
The opportunity is more pressing for the men's team, which is 9-7 overall and 1-3 in the SEC and can't stretch its way onto the NCAA tournament bubble at this juncture. But Thursday's game at Ole Miss could lend a helping hand.
The chances for a "good win" in NCAA tournament parlance won't come along that often in the SEC this season. The Vols already have lost to the Rebels; their only other games remaining against teams currently ranked in the top 25 are versus No. 8 Florida on Feb. 26 and No. 23 Missouri on March 9. Both games are at Thompson-Boling Arena, meaning Ole Miss is the best opportunity for an impressive road victory.
On the same day that the men seek redemption (and a better RPI) against Ole Miss, the Lady Vols can solidify their No. 9 national ranking and make further SEC headway with a victory over Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Their greater opportunity will come next Monday at Thompson-Boling when Tennessee takes on No. 2 Notre Dame, which embarrassed the Lady Vols 72-44 about this time last year in South Bend, Ind.
The teams could enhance their chances for success with improved ball security, which will start with the point guards. The last outings for both teams were encouraging in that respect.
Men's point guard Trae Golden, who has struggled for much of this season, demonstrated against Mississippi State last Saturday the qualities that made him a more effective player last season. He had 10 points, nine assists and only two turnovers while playing 26 minutes off the bench in a 72-57 victory. He also did what he does best, driving to the basket and creating scoring opportunities for his teammates and himself.
Lady Vols point guard Ariel Massengale, who has been too loose with the ball at times this season, is coming off a proficient performance as well. She had six assists and no turnovers in a 96-69 rout of Alabama on Sunday.
A couple of other guards also should figure prominently in how both teams fare in the next five days.
UT junior guard Jordan McRae has emerged as one of the best players in the SEC. And he has been at his best the last couple of weeks, averaging 21.6 points per game for the past five games.
Another junior guard, Meighan Simmons, has played like an All-American in recent games. In the last five games, she has averaged 21.2 points and — even more significantly — made 51.9 percent of her field-goal attempts.
If the Vols and Lady Vols are to capitalize on their upcoming opportunities, they will need their hot scorers to stay hot.