Tennessee Basketball: Late Surge Saves Season

By Tim Letcher

The Tennessee Volunteers picked the right time to get hot, winning their last four regular season games to finish the regular season at 20-11.

Cuonzo Martin and his team appeared to be on the way to the NIT again this season, after losing 3-of-4 games in February. But then, the Vols’ seniors decided they didn’t want to finish this season like they had the last three.

Tennessee won on the road against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, and they won at home against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Then, they won two more games, both in convincing fashion. The Vols thumped the Auburn Tigers at Auburn, 82-54. And in Saturday’s season finale, Tennessee crushed the Missouri Tigers, 72-45. The Vols dominated on the boards in both games; Tennessee grabbed 44 rebounds to Auburn’s 24, and had 45 to Missouri’s 28.

Tennessee’s inside game is leading the way during this late-season run. Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes are dominating inside, while Jordan McRae and Antonio Barton have been shooting well from beyond the arc.

That inside-outside combination makes Tennessee especially tough to guard. If the Vols can continue to play that way, they could certainly make some noise in this week’s Southeastern Conference tournament, as well as the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee will likely face the Arkansas Razorbacks in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament, and that will be an Arkansas team trying to remain in contention for an NCAA tournament spot. Some will call that game, if it does indeed take place — an NCAA tournament play-in game. Says here, however, that both of those teams should already be in the field.

If Tennessee can win that game, the Vols would likely face the top-ranked Florida Gators in the SEC semifinals. The Vols have the size and shooting ability to give Florida problems.

Just a couple of weeks ago, it appeared that Martin might be on his way out, and that Bruce Pearl could be returning to Knoxville. Now, it appears that Martin will get Tennessee back in the Big Dance for the first time since Pearl’s departure, and he is almost assured of getting a contract extension at the end of the year.

It’s funny how quickly things can change.

Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the United States Basketball Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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