If we were to grade the 2014 NCAA Tournament resume of the Tennessee Volunteers they would not receive a passing grade. To date the Vols are 11-6 and have two top-50 RPI wins, but they also have two losses to teams ranked outside the top 100 in the RPI with one of those losses coming at home. Two seasons ago Tennessee didn’t make the tourney because their strength of schedule wasn’t tough enough, and last season they didn’t make the tourney because they lacked enough true road wins. The problem with this year’s resume for the Volunteers is their unexplainable bad losses.
Currently none of the Vols’ 11 wins are against teams ranked in either poll, and with the wacky scheduling in the SEC due to being a 14-team league now, the Volunteers will only play Kentucky once, which they have already done and lost. So, that leaves the Vols with two match-ups with Florida and a possible SEC Tournament game as their only chances to snag a top-25 win this season. Tennessee has had good success in recent years against Florida so it is not crazy to assume that they will get at least one win over Florida this season, but will that be enough to overcome their losses to UTEP and Texas A&M?
Right now Tennessee is ranked No. 57 in the RPI. I know that the NCAA Selection Committee says they don’t factor in RPI ranking when selecting the Tournament field or seeding, but the factors that make up the RPI are considered when making the selection — if that makes sense. So, the number of the ranking doesn’t matter, but how the RPI got to the number matters. If you ask me that means the RPI matters.
Since switching to the current format used for the RPI in 2004 there have only been four teams that made the NCAA Tournament with an RPI ranking in the 60s: (67) USC and (64) Marquette in 2001, (63) North Carolina State in 2005 and (63) Stanford in 2007. History has shown that the Vols are still in decent shape to make the tournament, but taking another bad-loss could sink their chances.
A big issue for Tennessee has been their lack of consistency against top-100 teams with a 4-4 record. If that current trend keeps up for Tennessee and they split their remaining games versus top-100 teams — winning at home and losing on the road — the Vols would end up with a 22-9 record, which should be strong enough to get them in the tournament for the first time in three seasons. The only problem is can we really count on them winning the games they should win and only losing the games they shouldn’t? Last season Tennessee could have finished the regular season with a 21-9 record, but they lost twice to Georgia in the final month and then to Alabama in the SEC Tournament. Losing those three games cost the Vols a chance at making the Big Dance.
If Tennessee wants to get a passing grade for this season in the eyes of the Selection Committee, they better take care of business at home and be wary of slipping up on the road. More importantly, if they want to keep Cuonzo Martin as their head coach they need to find a way to make it to the tourney. Missing three straight NCAA Tournaments is not going to look good, especially with the roster they have. It’s time to buckle up if you are Tennessee; you failed the mid-term, but the final exam can redeem the Volunteers.