Life on the bubble is becoming common place for Cuonzo Martin and the Tennessee Volunteers.
The hope for the Vols, before the season started, was that Tennessee would have their NCAA tournament spot locked down heading into the final week of the season.
But that’s just not how things have worked out.
When the Vols lost to Missouri on February 15 — at which point UT was 15-10 — a tournament berth was starting to look unlikely.
The Vols have now won three of their last four games, since that loss at Missouri.
Their last win — a 76-38 dismantling of Vanderbilt — was perhaps their best win of the season, aside from a 87-52 victory over then unranked Virginia (the Cavaliers are now ranked fifth in the both the AP and USA Today/Coaches polls).
With that convincing win over Vandy, the Vols are hanging on to one of the final spots in the tournament, at least according to renowed ESPN “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi.
Lunardi currently has the Vols making the tournament as an 11 seed and playing in one of the “play-in” games against Minnesota in the south regional.
This leaves Tennessee with very little room for error.
If the Vols can win their final two games of the season against Auburn and Missouri (UT beat Auburn earlier this season, but lost to Missouri), it would leave them with a final record of 20-11, heading into the SEC tournament.
The Vols could lose in the first round of the SEC tournament, finish with a 20-12 record and still have a great shot at making the tournament.
If the Vols, however, are able to win at least one game in the SEC tournament and finish with a record of 21-12 then they’ll almost certainly be guaranteed a tournament bid.
Of course both of those scenarios depend on the Vols winning their final two games of the season. If Tennessee loses to Missouri they’ll absolutely have to win a game in the SEC tournament to have a shot at making the big dance.
In fact they’d probably need to win two games in the SEC tournament to lock down a spot.
The Vols’ season — and quite possibly Cuonzo Martin’s future — hinges on the season finale against Missouri on March 8.
Luckily for the Vols the game is in Knoxville, which will make senior day even more intense on Rocky Top.
Tennessee is in good position to make the tournament.
But as we’ve seen before, one loss can quickly undo all of that.