There comes a point in every sports season where fans start making the, “Well, if we just do X, then maybe we can make it to (insert championship, bowl, or tournament here).”
So in the spirit of the season, I sat down took a look at the schedule and with 11 games remaining in the regular season, and, believe it or not, Tennessee still has an outside shot at making the NCAA Tournament.
With the resume the Vols have this year, with all the close losses to great teams (and finally a win over one), a strong strength of schedule and good RPI numbers, I’d say its safe to assume they can be at about 11-12 losses and still at least have a shot.
After Tuesday’s big win over No. 4 Kentucky, Tennessee sits at 11-9 on the season (4-4 in the SEC) with a favorable schedule ahead.
It’s a tough start on Saturday when the Vols face 15-5 Kansas State, but after that most of the games are against average SEC basketball teams Tennessee has either already beaten, played close or can out-talent with what they have. If the Vols beat Kansas State on Saturday, the next few games would be very huge. They’d have to win on the road at Auburn and Miss State, then come home to play Ole Miss and Georgia. At the point the Vols would be 16-9 heading into Lexington for a rematch against the Wildcats pretty much playing with house money.
With two or three losses to give, the Vols could fall on the road to Kentucky, then come home and beat a bad Missouri team.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
The Vols then face a Vanderbilt team that, despite losing to Arkansas Tuesday by one, has been very hot as of late. If the Vols were to drop that one, that gives them very little breathing room in the final few games. After that Vandy game the Vols travel to play a talented South Carolina squad, then to Baton Rouge against a less-than-stellar Tigers team before rounding out the year at home against a decent Alabama squad. If the Vols end the season in the range of 20-11, or 19-12 and get a win or two in the SEC Tournament, who knows, Tennessee might be dancing in March for a game or two. The NIT, while not the ultimate goal, would also be a nice consolation prize for this particular team.
It’s fun to look at some of these scenarios and explore the “what if” factor. After a huge win like what Tennessee had on Tuesday night, anything seems possible. The reality is that Tennessee will have to be a far more consistent team than what has been shown thus far, and that’ll be a huge challenge with this young squad. But that’s why they play the games, and the fact that a team picked 13th in the SEC in the preseason can even dream about making a run to the postseason at this point is a credit to what Rick Barnes has done so far.
There’s plenty of work to be done, but at least there’s something riding on it in the coming games.