Get ready to hear that two-word phrase ad nauseam over the next week.
With the last weekend of the regular season upon us and many teams fighting for the final few at large bids, it can only mean one thing — March Madness is in full swing.
The Tennessee Volunteers have found themselves squarely in the middle of the “bubble” debate. The Vols enter their game Saturday against the Missouri Tigers with a 18-11 record. Tennessee has put themselves in a position to earn a tournament bid with an impressive February that included a six game winning streak.
Head coach Cuonzo Martin has found success over the last month with a smaller lineup. The change has resulted in less playing time for forward Kenny Hall, but has increased offensive productivity.
Guards Jordan McRae and Trae Golden, along with forward Jarnell Stokes, have been key to Tennessee’s success lately. McRae leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points a game and has averaged 28 points a game over the last five games.
Golden has averaged just over 17 points a game since returning from a hamstring injury in early February. The junior guard had 21 points in the Vol’s win over Auburn on Wednesday night, recovering from a poor performance in the loss against Georgia last weekend.
Sophomore Jarnell Stokes has been equally as impressive over the last month. Stokes recorded six straight double-doubles at point this season, and now has 13 on the season. The Memphis native had a line of 11 points and 12 rebounds against Auburn, but only hit 1-of-10 free throws. Stokes told the media after the game that when he returned to Knoxville he would not leave the gym until he hit 100 free throws.
The match-up on Saturday will be the first meeting between Tennessee and Missouri this season.
The Tigers have several impressive wins this season, including wins over Illinois and Florida. Missouri has now won three games in a row since an overtime loss at Kentucky on February 23rd.
If the Vols lose to Missouri on Saturday it will basically end their NCAA tournament hopes. As it is the Volunteers are no lock to earn a tournament bid, even if they win their next two games. A loss to Missouri would be crippling at this point for the Vol’s chance to go dancing.
If Tennessee plays the way they did against Georgia, they might as well not show up to Thompson Boling Arena on Saturday. If the Vols play like they did against Kentucky and even Florida, then the Tigers might as well stay in Columbia.
It all depends on which Tennessee team shows up on Saturday. The Vols can’t lock up a spot in the NCAA tournament with a win, but they push themselves out of one with a loss.
Tennessee and Missouri tip off at 4:00 pm est on Saturday. The game can be seen live from Thompson Boling Arena on ESPN.