*co-written by Nathan Odom
This week on Rocky Topics, Cody McClure and Nathan Odom debate whether Tennessee’s men’s basketball team will make the NCAA tournament. The Vols are currently 2nd in the SEC standings with an 11-5, 3-1 record.
McClure: Tennessee will make the NCAA tournament. Just past the halfway point in the season, the Vols have 11 wins including two top-30 RPI wins over Arkansas and Butler. Four of their five losses have come from teams inside the RPI top-5o, with the lone exception being a Nov. 30 loss to Marquette, a team in the RPI top-100. If Tennessee maintains its current pace – with winnable games against the above-average SEC down the stretch – they can reasonably get to 20 wins. A win or two in the SEC tournament undoubtedly lands the Vols in the field of 68.
Odom: With respect to Donnie Tyndall and what he’s done with the Vols this year, Tennessee simply won’t have enough to make the NCAA tournament in March. Tennessee’s abysmal offensive performance against Alabama at home reinforced the scoring woes the Vols have when someone besides Josh Richardson doesn’t step up. With only 10 scholarship players, Tennessee will battle injuries and fatigue down the stretch and come up short in games that require 40 minutes of intensity. The Vols won’t have enough quality wins or the RPI to prove itself to the NCAA committee come Selection Sunday.
McClure: You’re right about the offensive woes. I’ll give you that. Without Richardson, Tennessee has struggled to score points. However, that’s all in the past. Other players are beginning to step up. Robert Hubbs III is living up to the hype that surrounded him when he got to Knoxville. Despite injuries, Hubbs has become a reliable shooter. Armani Moore has probably made the biggest jump. His performance last week earned him SEC player of the week. Even though the depth is shallow, this Tennessee team is gritty. They’re not going to wow anybody, but they have enough athletes to secure wins in close games. And they’re still unblemished on the road in the SEC.
Odom: I agree that Hubbs III and Moore have taken huge steps towards helping Tennessee’s consistency, but I don’t think their play alone can secure Tennessee a spot in the field of 68. The Vols will need a handful of quality SEC wins. A win over Kentucky at home would be massive. Road games against Arkansas on Jan. 27 and LSU on Feb. 24 could also pay dividends. I think if Tennessee wins at least two of these games, they squeeze into the field. However, Tennessee doesn’t have the big men to contain Kentucky on the boards and Arkansas nearly came back to shock Tennessee in Knoxville. I like Tennessee’s determination and will to win, but the Vols won’t win the important games required to make the tournament this year.
Sports Editor, Cody McClure, has been with TNJN since January 2014. He is passionate about SEC football and basketball. To him, there's nothing better in life than game day in Neyland Stadium. Cody covers the SEC for Athlon Sports. Additionally, he co-hosts Rock Solid Sports for WUTK 90.3 FM on Fridays from 7-8 p.m. ET. Cody is also interning at Sports Radio WNML working under Jimmy Hyams. In his spare time, he plays golf, travels the country, and plays guitar, badly. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.