February 25, 2012; Columbia, SC, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Cuonzo Martin directs his team against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first half at Colonial-Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-US PRESSWIRE

Nat Scott: The Importance of Finishing Strong

Take a deep breath. Tennessee is currently 16-13 and 8-6 in the SEC.  If you asked the majority of fans at the start of the year, they probably would have thought the Vols would be around .500 overall but definitely not have a winning record in SEC games.  Let alone have the opportunity for a ten (yes ten) win season in the SEC.  On top of that if Tennessee wins these last two games they will most likely be the two (yes two) seed in the SEC tournament.  It is really unbelievable when you think about it.  Most “projections” had Tennessee finishing at best eleventh in the SEC (yes eleventh).  Now exhale.

February 25, 2012; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks forward R.J. Slawson (33) and Tennessee Volunteers forward Jarnell Stokes (5) battle for a rebound in the first half at Colonial-Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-US PRESSWIRE

Now back to the reality of things.  Tennessee still has two very tough games ahead of them.  They need to win at least one game the rest of the way to clinch a potential spot in the NIT.  The NIT and NCAA do not count Tennessee’s win over Chaminade, so to the people that matter Tennessee is still only 15-13.  NIT you ask?  What about the NCAA tournament where the Vols belong?  To you I say please be quiet and keep your opinions to yourself, because they do not matter whatsover.  The ONLY and I repeat ONLY way Tennessee will make the NCAA tournament is if they win the SEC tournament.  Even if Tennessee makes the championship of the SEC tournament and loses they will not deserve an NCAA bid.

After all, Tennessee has lost 13 games so far and has an RPI that is better than 90 for the first time all season.  Throw in losses to Austin Peay and Oakland and well…you do the math.  All that said, the NIT is not a bad thing.  If you had asked me at the start of the year I would have said the NIT would be one heck of a season.  Now I think the Vols might even have what it takes to make a nice little run in the NIT.  In the long term, it would be better experience for the Vols to make the NIT and make a run at the Final Four instead of going to the NCAA tournament and getting their brains beat out of them.  Coach Martin has done an extraordinary job with this team, and the NIT will be a great place for the Vols to demonstrate to the rest of the country what the future of UT basketball will be like.

Tonight Tennessee heads to LSU.  The Vols have rarely performed well there over the past few years.  Bruce Pearl got thrown out of his first game there, and the year Tennessee made it to #1 they barely got out of Baton Rouge with a win.  The point is tonight’s game is not gimme.  The Vols will have to play some of their best basketball to go into LSU and come out with a win.  After that Vanderbilt comes to town.  Tennessee has had their way with Vandy at home the last few years, but this Vols team just does not match up well with the Dores.  IF Tennessee can win these last two games it would be a huge accomplishment.  The ten win SEC season, a two seed in the SEC tournament, and a lot of everyone’s best friend momentum heading to New Orleans for the SEC tournament.  Then, with a bye in the first round, it is anyone’s ball game.

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