Mike Strange: Bubble watch shines spotlight on Vols, SEC tournament

Mike Strange
Tennessee's Jordan McRae, left, and Alabama's Trevor Lacey, right, collide as McRae takes a shot at the end of the first half during a game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee's Jordan McRae, left, and Alabama's Trevor Lacey, right, collide as McRae takes a shot at the end of the first half during a game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Cuonzo Martin talks Vols, SEC and post-season play

Cuonzo Martin on being a father figure for the team

Cuonzo Martin on tournament play

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Energized by his team’s clutch win over Missouri, Cuonzo Martin addressed the inevitable NCAA tournament question Saturday by saying, “The work is done.’’

Well, not quite. Not for Tennessee and not for several of the Vols’ SEC brethren. Pack the hard hats for Nashville.

All of which makes for a most intriguing SEC tournament that tips off Wednesday night, bigger, if not better, than ever.

If saving time were the priority, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Ole Miss would skip Nashville and report straight to Dayton, Ohio, for an SEC-centric, first-round NCAA tournament doubleheader.

The winners stick around. The losers force a smile and pledge to win the NIT.

But that would strip the SEC’s postseason showcase (aka cash cow) of its most compelling plot line.

Usually, by the league tournament, virtually all the hay is in the barn. The most successful teams are playing for NCAA seeding only. Most everyone else is playing out the string.

There’s probably a team on the bubble. Maybe two.

This year, there is a full house, each with fingers crossed:

Kentucky, the defending national champion hoping for the opportunity to mount a defense.

Tennessee, streaking to eight wins in its final nine regular-season games.

Ole Miss, hoping to end the SEC’s longest NCAA tourney drought — since 2001-02.

Alabama, grateful to be in this conversation thanks to Travis Releford’s 50-foot buzzer-beater Saturday.

Everyone agrees Florida and Missouri are locks. Why Mizzou? Strength of schedule. It’s one of the most valued credentials.

From there, the respective bracketologists cannot reach a consensus.

Joe Lunardi of ESPN has Kentucky among the “last four in.’’ The Vols were bumped to “first four out” by Virginia’s win over Maryland on Sunday.

Lunardi also has Ole Miss among the “first four out” and Alabama in the “next four out.’’

Jerry Palm’s CBSsports.com bracket still includes the Vols and Kentucky, both as 12 seeds starting in opening round play-in games in Dayton.

Sports Illustrated’s bracket has Kentucky as “last four in,” with Tennessee, Ole Miss and Alabama swapping elbows in the “first four out.’’

USA Today includes both the Vols and Kentucky as “last four in,’’ with Ole Miss “first four out” and Alabama “next four out.’’

The Vols play Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s match between Mississippi State and South Carolina.

Either opponent will dilute UT’s strength-of-schedule component, which is second only to Florida among SEC teams and significantly better than most bubble teams nationally.

Martin deserves credit for taking on a demanding non-conference schedule: the Puerto Rico trip; road games at Georgetown and Virginia; home games with Wichita State, Xavier and Memphis.

“We came up short (on some), but I felt like it’s something we had to do,’’ Martin said Monday.

What UT has to do now is win Thursday and then beat Alabama on Friday. The Tide, like Kentucky and Ole Miss, is idle Thursday.

So Friday shapes up as delicious do-or-die day for the bubble brothers. Depending on what happens in tournaments elsewhere, another win on Saturday might even be required.

For once, the SEC might be the most interesting tournament in the country.

There’s so much work yet to be done.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

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Comments » 20

tnoutlaw2001#228008 writes:

TEAM CONF OVERALL
Florida 14-4 24-6
Ole Miss 12-6 23-8
Kentucky 12-6 21-10
Alabama 12-6 20-11
Missouri 11-7 22-9
Tennessee 11-7 19-11
Arkansas 10-8 19-12

I think the SEC will get 5 in no problem. If UT or Arkasas make a run or upset then maybe 6. I think 5 would be normal, but I guess nationally SEC is down?

GreeneVol writes:

The conference comparisons can't be anymore than the out of conference match-ups which were a long time ago...I know, it's the only thing they have to go on. SEC must not have faired so well. But these jokers saying Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee all three not making the tournament? Leaving just Florida, Missouri and a badly-limping Kentucky in the field of sixty-however many teams? Really?

Surprised to hear Martin say 'the work is done'...I hope that is out of context from the way this article portrays it.

sdjc#587498 writes:

in response to tnoutlaw2001#228008:

TEAM CONF OVERALL
Florida 14-4 24-6
Ole Miss 12-6 23-8
Kentucky 12-6 21-10
Alabama 12-6 20-11
Missouri 11-7 22-9
Tennessee 11-7 19-11
Arkansas 10-8 19-12

I think the SEC will get 5 in no problem. If UT or Arkasas make a run or upset then maybe 6. I think 5 would be normal, but I guess nationally SEC is down?

I hope you are right but dont think the SEC gets the respect it deserves. It may be a little backlash from conference football success. Besides that the other teams bring down the six who may deserve to be in tourney

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

in response to GreeneVol:

The conference comparisons can't be anymore than the out of conference match-ups which were a long time ago...I know, it's the only thing they have to go on. SEC must not have faired so well. But these jokers saying Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee all three not making the tournament? Leaving just Florida, Missouri and a badly-limping Kentucky in the field of sixty-however many teams? Really?

Surprised to hear Martin say 'the work is done'...I hope that is out of context from the way this article portrays it.

That's exactly what I was thinking. The only sure way for the Vols to go dancing is to win the SEC tournament. Martin should have these guys pushing all the way to the finish, not throwing up their hands and hoping for a lucky break.

I have to admit...coming from Martin...that's a pretty strange thing to say and a pretty non-Martin-ish sentiment to possess.

If UT wants to get into the NCAA on the bubble, a win over Bama would go a long way to securing that berth.

SouthPaVol writes:

in response to DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho:

That's exactly what I was thinking. The only sure way for the Vols to go dancing is to win the SEC tournament. Martin should have these guys pushing all the way to the finish, not throwing up their hands and hoping for a lucky break.

I have to admit...coming from Martin...that's a pretty strange thing to say and a pretty non-Martin-ish sentiment to possess.

If UT wants to get into the NCAA on the bubble, a win over Bama would go a long way to securing that berth.

Seems logical and I'm with your thinking the Alabama win is the clincher. In a head-to-head, Alabama looks pretty good against the Vols. They beat us by 3 points, albeit on their home court, and are seeded higher in the SEC tourney than we are. We have a better strength of schedule, but I couldn't give our Vols the nod over Ala today. We gotta beat the Tide to make things right. That's right after we thrash SC again. Go Vols!

tnvol4ever writes:

I'm sure the "work is done" comment was just some public posturing by coach. Guessing he is giving the team a whole different pep talk.

shoelessvol#236864 writes:

Disappointed that the Vols fell "off" the bubble to the last four out. Just need to win at least the first two in the SEC Tourney to get in. How can they even list Kentucky ahead of us after we humiliated them by 30 and with out their best player? I guess it's in the "name"!

dcap8424 writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

Seems logical and I'm with your thinking the Alabama win is the clincher. In a head-to-head, Alabama looks pretty good against the Vols. They beat us by 3 points, albeit on their home court, and are seeded higher in the SEC tourney than we are. We have a better strength of schedule, but I couldn't give our Vols the nod over Ala today. We gotta beat the Tide to make things right. That's right after we thrash SC again. Go Vols!

You know we beat them at home as well, right?

dragon18 writes:

in response to sdjc#587498:

I hope you are right but dont think the SEC gets the respect it deserves. It may be a little backlash from conference football success. Besides that the other teams bring down the six who may deserve to be in tourney

I really don't want to sound like some of the other posters that get on here to bash. That's not my intent. The truth is though that the SEC is not a great basketball conference. I'm not sure they deserve to get five teams in and I'm not convinced UT deserves to get in (unless they make a run in the tournament of course) based on the entire body of work. That being said I hope UT gets in and kicks Arse!

murrayvol writes:

in response to shoelessvol#236864:

Disappointed that the Vols fell "off" the bubble to the last four out. Just need to win at least the first two in the SEC Tourney to get in. How can they even list Kentucky ahead of us after we humiliated them by 30 and with out their best player? I guess it's in the "name"!

Not in the name my friend but in the Big Blue Butts that will fill any arena from here to Bangladesh.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to tnvol4ever:

I'm sure the "work is done" comment was just some public posturing by coach. Guessing he is giving the team a whole different pep talk.

That's the way I read it, too. Perhaps trying simultaneously to pump up the home fans and sell the selection committee. Still, I agree with the other poster that this a rather "un-Martinish" comment to make and with you that the message to the team probably is to win all they can to take the decision out of the "if" category and into the "where-when-who" category.

Volbound1700 writes:

The problem with SEC is RPI.

Kentucky - 50
Tennessee - 55
Ole Miss - 56
Alabama - 60

Now taking into account the 18 or so small conference teams that are automatic, you have to really have an RPI in the 40s to feel safe to make the NCAA Tournament.

MrPid writes:

in response to Volbound1700:

The problem with SEC is RPI.

Kentucky - 50
Tennessee - 55
Ole Miss - 56
Alabama - 60

Now taking into account the 18 or so small conference teams that are automatic, you have to really have an RPI in the 40s to feel safe to make the NCAA Tournament.

This is indeed the problem. From my understanding of the RPI, which is strictly based on mathematical formulas from wins/loses (not who you beat or who you lost it is strictly based on a win or loss built into formulas), needs to be address by the conference. CCM said recently that other teams in the SEC need to schedule tougher opponents. Use Ole Miss as an example they have averaged over 20 wins/season the last 7 years and have not made the tourney...Why is that? Because of scheduling! Now they are not the only team in the SEC to schedule poorly....looks at LSU's schedule this year. Had the conference as a whole scheduled a few more games like TN (even UK did not schedule very well this year). Even if the SEC loses those games like we did to GT, these loses still improve the conference RPI as a whole. So let us say that Ole Miss, LSU, and UK each had two less wins this year, but they were to better opponents then their lowest victories then everyone in the Conference would have an improved RPI. Then the perception would be that SEC is a good conference but they just beat each other up! Although the RPI is used as this powerful gage of the best teams it can be manipulated if you understand the math. Playing the best teams in the worst conferences will significantly boost your RPI (especially if you win that same game on the road as the factor for a road victory is 1.4 while a home victory the factor is 0.6) This would explain why TN road victories over USCe and Vandy had a dramatic improvement on our RPI at the time while Home Victories over UK and UF only moved us up a couple of spots. The calculations do not know the difference between UK and USCe only a home win and a road win)And BTW a neutral victory has a 1.0 factor. Now as far as a NCAA resume is concerned there is a difference between a home win over UK and a road win over USCe...but imagine as a conference if we ALL made a conscious decision to each schedule a few extra road games against teams win high win/loss percentages, then the perception of the conference would also change.

Now the worst part of the bad conference RPI, those SEC teams who do make the tourney will then get lower seeds than maybe they deserve. Lower seeds = bad match-ups = more loses, then the powers that be can say "see, I told you the SEC is not very good". It amazes me that the real smart guys in the math department has not enlightened the basketball coaches how to take advantage of the math and schedule more prominent games.....other conferences have done just that!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to MrPid:

This is indeed the problem. From my understanding of the RPI, which is strictly based on mathematical formulas from wins/loses (not who you beat or who you lost it is strictly based on a win or loss built into formulas), needs to be address by the conference. CCM said recently that other teams in the SEC need to schedule tougher opponents. Use Ole Miss as an example they have averaged over 20 wins/season the last 7 years and have not made the tourney...Why is that? Because of scheduling! Now they are not the only team in the SEC to schedule poorly....looks at LSU's schedule this year. Had the conference as a whole scheduled a few more games like TN (even UK did not schedule very well this year). Even if the SEC loses those games like we did to GT, these loses still improve the conference RPI as a whole. So let us say that Ole Miss, LSU, and UK each had two less wins this year, but they were to better opponents then their lowest victories then everyone in the Conference would have an improved RPI. Then the perception would be that SEC is a good conference but they just beat each other up! Although the RPI is used as this powerful gage of the best teams it can be manipulated if you understand the math. Playing the best teams in the worst conferences will significantly boost your RPI (especially if you win that same game on the road as the factor for a road victory is 1.4 while a home victory the factor is 0.6) This would explain why TN road victories over USCe and Vandy had a dramatic improvement on our RPI at the time while Home Victories over UK and UF only moved us up a couple of spots. The calculations do not know the difference between UK and USCe only a home win and a road win)And BTW a neutral victory has a 1.0 factor. Now as far as a NCAA resume is concerned there is a difference between a home win over UK and a road win over USCe...but imagine as a conference if we ALL made a conscious decision to each schedule a few extra road games against teams win high win/loss percentages, then the perception of the conference would also change.

Now the worst part of the bad conference RPI, those SEC teams who do make the tourney will then get lower seeds than maybe they deserve. Lower seeds = bad match-ups = more loses, then the powers that be can say "see, I told you the SEC is not very good". It amazes me that the real smart guys in the math department has not enlightened the basketball coaches how to take advantage of the math and schedule more prominent games.....other conferences have done just that!

Some good thoughts and info here. There is another measure the NCAA uses called BPI that is said to take some of the other factors you mentioned into account. I don't know exactly what BPI means or what all goes into it, though I'm sure somebody on here could enlighten me. I have seen comparisons between UT and several other nationally-known candidates for at-large bids, and the Vols seem to measure up well against them. There are howls every year about some of the committee's selections, some more justified than others. It is a bit tiresome to keep saying so, but no less true, that all the Vols can do is finish out as strongly as possible and see what that gets them. I do feel strongly that they would make a creditable showing if they got a bid, even against some of the top teams in the country.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

LOL...
I glanced really quick at the title and thought it said "Bubba Watch"!!!!

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Sadly, most projections I'm seeing give the sEC only 3 teams in....and UT isn't one.

Lay an egg first game, and no chance.

I think, really, UT has got to make a run to the finals, and have a good showing.

The lack of depth at PG and big man is going to hurt them, I think. On the plus side, UT has some really good swing players if they play with poise.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to emailnodata:

Sadly, most projections I'm seeing give the sEC only 3 teams in....and UT isn't one.

Lay an egg first game, and no chance.

I think, really, UT has got to make a run to the finals, and have a good showing.

The lack of depth at PG and big man is going to hurt them, I think. On the plus side, UT has some really good swing players if they play with poise.

Yep, gonna take some big showings by some subs to win more than two. Traditional wisdom holds that role players play better at home than they do on the road. Will there be enough orange in the stands to convince the subs that they are playing at home? Whatever it takes, this is a golden opportunity for some guy to erupt from out of nowhere to become a Vol legend--a major contributor to the first Vol SEC tourney champ since the Stone Age!

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Yep, gonna take some big showings by some subs to win more than two. Traditional wisdom holds that role players play better at home than they do on the road. Will there be enough orange in the stands to convince the subs that they are playing at home? Whatever it takes, this is a golden opportunity for some guy to erupt from out of nowhere to become a Vol legend--a major contributor to the first Vol SEC tourney champ since the Stone Age!

Could be Cheivous.

I like the kid (and am probably miss-spelling his name).

This tourney is geared for stokes, too, with his power.

Key, though, of course, is game 1.

Katphan29 writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Not in the name my friend but in the Big Blue Butts that will fill any arena from here to Bangladesh.

C'mon Murrayvol, not all of us have fat butts!

Hey, its all about filling arenas and making the NCAA money, right?

Olddogsrule writes:

Looking at the ESPN BPI

(explained here)

http://espn.go.com/mens-college-baske...

(current projected tournament here)

http://espn.go.com/mens-college-baske...

The Vols will at least have to play in the SEC CG to get in because of all the mid-major conference champs etc. Even though they have a BPI or RPI 20 points lower than the Vols. It's gonna be a tough row to hoe, but they can do it !

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