Mar 1, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers guard Antonio Barton (2) brings the ball up court against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee won 76-38. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Today On Rocky Top: Barton Key To Vols' NCAA Tourney Hopes


During the course of a long college basketball season, any given team will play about as well as it’s capable in 20 games and play much worse than it’s capable in about five games. Counterbalancing those flameouts are the five games a team usually plays far better than expected.

Saturday was one of those days for Tennessee.

In administering a historic bashing to old rival Vanderbilt, the Vols once again left their fans shaking their heads. How could a team that beat the Commodores by 38 points, ACC regular-season champion Virginia by 35 points and posted double-digit wins on the road at LSU and Alabama lose twice to Texas A&M? How could Tennessee be on the NCAA tournament bubble?

A book could be written about this season’s incredible highs and inexplicable lows. Blame can be placed on coach Cuonzo Martina and his staff and the Vols themselves. But in March, the NCAA selection committee looks for only one thing. Is a team worthy of competing for the national championship?

The Tennessee team that pounded Vanderbilt on Saturday is worthy, but …

But, if the Vols want to make the NCAA field for the first time in three years and the first time in Martin’s sometimes-shaky tenure, two things have to happen.


From ABC News (AP)


Isabelle Harrison had 20 points and 15 rebounds Sunday as No. 10 Tennessee defeated No. 4 South Carolina 73-61 to snap the Gamecocks’ 10-game winning streak in the regular-season finale for both teams.

Tennessee (24-5, 13-3 SEC) never trailed as it ended an eight-game losing streak against top-five opponents and clinched the No. 2 seed in the Southeastern Conference tournament that begins Wednesday at Duluth, Ga. Tennessee hadn’t beaten a top-five team since an 82-72 overtime victory over No. 3 Stanford on Dec. 19, 2010.

South Carolina already had clinched its first SEC title Thursday with a 67-56 victory over Georgia.

The scenario was similar to the end of last year’s regular season.

After clinching the SEC regular-season title last year, Tennessee went on the road and lost to 2011-12 SEC champ and preseason conference favorite Kentucky in its regular-season finale. This year, Tennessee was the defending champion and preseason favorite that closed the regular season by beating the team that had just wrapped up the conference championship.


It’s not very often that knuckleballers talk about the velocity of their pitches, but then again, R.A. Dickey has never been the prototypical knuckleball pitcher.

One of the main reasons behind Dickey’s rise to fame in New York was his ability to throw the trademark pitch with some authority. Not only would the ball dance all over the zone, but it would also arrive at the plate with upper-70s and low-80s velocity on the radar gun.

That type of speed was absent during his first couple of months in a Blue Jays uniform. An upper back and neck injury took away some of his comfort level on the mound, changed his release point and impacted his overall effectiveness on the mound. The good news is that the high velocity appears to be on its way back.

“This time last year, I remember peeking back there and seeing high 60s and low 70s,” said Dickey, who topped out at 75 mph during his first start of the spring on Thursday. “I obviously feel better at this point than I did last year, which I hope will carry out throughout the spring and into the opening game.”

The velocity is expected to trend upwards as Dickey gets deeper into Spring Training. The goal is to add a few more miles per hour to his knuckleball before the start of the regular season, which would have him sitting around 77-78 mph — the range where he was during his 2012 National League Cy Young Award-winning year with the Mets.

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