Tennessee Basketball: Work isn’t finished yet

Tennessee Volunteers

The Tennessee basketball team is still squarely on the bubble heading into the SEC tournament, but has definitely helped their chances with the way they’ve finished the regular season.

The Vols capped off the regular season with three straight victories, in dominating fashion, after defeating Missouri 72-45 on Saturday afternoon on an always emotional Senior Day in Thompson Boling Arena.

Seniors Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon, Antonio Barton, and D’Montre Edwards hope they have completed their final contest in Knoxville for their collegiate careers, because if they have not it means the Vols have failed to make the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive season.

If Tennessee hopes to remain out of the NIT they will need a little reversal of fortune in the SEC tournament. No matter how many bye’s, or how good of a seed Cuonzo Martin’s Vols have received the past two seasons, the Vols have yet to win more than one game in the conference tournament and as a result have been left out of the NCAA tournament.

Overall, even for the almighty Bruce Pearl, the SEC tournament has not been kind to the Vols. Since 1979, the last time a Tennessee team actually won the tournament, they’ve only made it to the conference final twice. Their most recent loss came in a thriller to Mississippi State in 2009. Since 2000 the Vols have only gone 10-14 in conference tournament play.

If Tennessee can continue to punish opponents defensively, and Barton can keep hot on the offensive side like he has down the stretch, the Vols could be legitimate contenders to win their first SEC title in 35 years.

In their last three games the Vols have held opponents to an average of just 46 points, while pummeling them into submission by an average of 28 points. While on the other side of the ball, senior-transfer Barton has really found himself, and become the player Tennessee expected him to be upon his arrival on Rocky Top.

He’s averaged 17 points over the last three games, shooting 13-of-22 from three, and has opened up opportunities Stokes and McRae to get better looks which has improved the offense as a whole.

If history from earlier this season tells us anything, it’s that if the Vols can win their first game of the tournament the games following will be a breeze. In the Battle 4 Atlanits tournament earlier this season after falling to UTEP, Tennessee went on to dominate both Xavier and Wake Forest to close out the tournament.

The Vols will tip-off from the Georgia Dome on Friday at approximately 3:25 p.m. on ESPNU, and will face either South Carolina, Auburn or Arkansas, depending how previous rounds competitions’ play out.