One year ago the Volunteers were left out of the tournament for the second straight season.
Since the allegations placed on Bruce Pearl during his final season as head coach, it’s been a rough go for the Tennessee basketball program.
Both seasons began about the same for Tennessee under their new head coach Cuonzo Martin. The team got off to a slow start both seasons, but rebounded in the latter part of the seasons to make a strong late-season push for a tournament bid, but were left out.
Last year as many as seven teams the Vols had faced made the tournament, three of which they defeated. However, they were instead passed up by several at-large, mid-major bids who played teams that didn’t even earn an invitation to the NIT.
Martin himself began questioning if he should “dumb down,” his team’s schedule just to gain wins and guaranty a tournament bid since his team, who is 17-4 in the regular season in two seasons from Feb.-Mar.
However, he didn’t do so this season, as at least 14 of their 25 different opponents they will face, and have already faced, this season are legitimate tournament contenders. They’ve already traded losses with Xavier, Xavier winning by four at home in the season-opener and Tennessee winning by 15 in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
On the other side of the spectrum the Vols already have a loss that will not bode well for them that they suffered to UTEP in the opening round of the holiday tournament. It’s losses like that they’ve suffered over the past two seasons, coupled with narrow losses to eventual tournament caliber teams that have left them playing in the NIT.
While the SEC isn’t the most appealing conference when it comes to basketball, teams like Boise State and Middle Tennessee State have proven the past two seasons that you can play a weak schedule in a week conference and still receive an invitation to the big dance.
It’s no secret the NCAA selection committee loves their mid-majors. Over the years, despite playing in particular week conferences, teams such as Memphis and Gonzaga have gained as high as No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, solely for winning games, regardless of their opponents.
If it’s going to guaranty his team a spot in the tournament, Martin should highly consider following the trend and play big fish in a small pond just to give his team a chance to make a tournament run and win the school’s first national title.