Tennessee’s basketball team will play its biggest game of the season tomorrow. The Vols are on the NCAA tournament’s proverbial bubble for the third consecutive year under head coach Cuonzo Martin. They come into the game at 19-11 (10-7) and will take on the Missouri Tigers, who are 21-9 (9-8).
Saturday’s game is likely a make or break situation for the Vols’ tournament hopes. Missouri, also an NCAA tournament bubble team, knows that a road win over Tennessee will greatly increase their chances of making the field. Some view tomorrow’s game as a virtual “play-in” for the big dance. While winning the SEC tournament is always a sure ticket into the field, at-large teams like the Vols and Tigers need wins of this caliber to prevent a do-or-die situation.
An RPI win for either team tomorrow will be impressive, as both are lurking near the top 50 in the nation. Not only is tomorrow’s game a must-win for the Vols, it is also Senior Day. For a team led primarily by seniors, there is no question as to the game’s importance. Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon, Antonio Barton, and D’Montre Edwards will all play their final game in Thompson-Boling Arena.
As if there wasn’t enough to play for, a win for Tennessee would also clinch a bye in next week’s SEC tournament, meaning the Vols wouldn’t have to play until Friday. Tennessee could climb as high as a number three seed for the conference tournament, depending on whether or not Georgia beats LSU.
Tennessee’s keys to a win Saturday are simple: shoot the ball well and stop Jabari Brown. The Vols hit only 40% of their shots in a 75-70 loss to Missouri earlier this season. Even worse, Tennessee was 4-21 from the three-point line. The Tigers’ Brown lit up the scoreboard for 24 points and also made a last-minute play to finish off the Vols.
If Tennessee can do these things well and limit turnovers, they will likely have an opportunity to pick up a much-needed win. This team has not played well with high stakes on the line in the past, but undoubtedly, they desperately seek to change that image. Tomorrow, the Vols can do just that. With the exception of Arkansas, no team in the SEC is playing as well as Tennessee right now, and Vol Nation hopes that trend continues.
Tip-off for Tennessee vs. Missouri is set for 4:00 p.m. (EST) and will be televised on ESPN.
Edited by Will Lomas