published Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Vols have big stake in last two

RESUME REVIEW

Tennessee is the next-to-last team in the NCAA tournament according to ESPN bracket projector Joe Lunardi, while Jerry Palm at CBS has the Volunteers third in line among the first four teams out of the 68-team field. With Selection Sunday now less than two weeks away, here's a look at Tennessee's resume heading into the season's final week.

RPI: 48

Strength of schedule: 18 (CBS)/13 (ESPN)

Nonconference SOS: 39 (CBS)/35 (ESPN)

vs. RPI Top 25: 1-4

vs. RPI Top 50: 2-5

vs. RPI Top 100: 7-9

vs. RPI 100+: 10-2

Best Wins: Virginia (10), Xavier (37), Arkansas (58)

Worst Losses: Texas A&M (113) twice, UTEP (100)

Note: All RPI figures are according to the NCAA's official ranking, which was updated Monday.

KNOXVILLE — Heading into the final week of the regular season, Tennessee's basketball team is in a spot to which it's become accustomed the past two seasons.

With SEC tournament seeding and NCAA tournament participation in the balance, one road trip and one home game remain.

And the Volunteers need to win both.

In its first two seasons under coach Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee swept the season's final two games to enter the SEC tournament with momentum and keep alive its NCAA hopes, and though the Vols didn't expect to be in such a spot this season, at least they'll be used to the pressure of the situation.

"I think [it will help], because we've been here before," Martin said Monday at his weekly meeting with the media. "Again, the thing I talk to our guys about is just play basketball. Don't get consumed with that, and again, it's easier said than done, because they read and they see things.

"Just play the game. If we play the way we're capable of playing, like we did Saturday and like in other games, with the consistency we're able to play with, everything will take care of itself. That's the biggest key."

In Martin's first season, Tennessee claimed the second second seed heading into the SEC tournament by rallying from a big deficit to win in overtime at LSU and beating a Vanderbilt team that would go on to knock off Anthony Davis and Kentucky, the eventual national champions, in the league tournament final.

The Vols won at Auburn and beat NCAA tournament-bound Missouri at Thompson-Boling Arena to wrap up the fifth seed in the SEC tournament a season ago.

After thrashing Vanderbilt by 38 points on Saturday, Tennessee enters the season's final two games on a modest two-game winning streak and faces the same finish -- at Auburn on Wednesday and Missouri at home on Saturday -- this week. Two wins would wrap up a double-bye in the SEC tournament in Atlanta.

"When you win," Martin said, "your seeding will take care of itself and there won't be any guessing. And just have some fun in playing. You have to have fun. You can't be pressing as a player, because it's hard to play at the level you want to if you're pressing."

Point guard Antonio Barton said after Saturday's win that the team watched the NCAA tournament's "One Shining Moment" montages that play following the national championship game the night before each game.

Martin confirmed the ploy on Monday and even quietly sang the first line of the song sung by Luther Vandross -- "The ball is tipped" -- in talking about it.

"Every team wants to get there, and when you get there, it's a great feeling," said Barton, who played in the tournament in each of his three years at Memphis. "We just don't want to miss out on that feeling this year."

Furthermore, Martin said he showed the Vols some graphics of ESPN's NCAA tournament projections -- which still had Tennessee in the field -- after the overtime loss at Texas A&M.

"This is where you guys are," the coach said of the message he intended to send. "You're still in good shape. Let's do what we need to do to be successful as a team."

Martin says he never reads anything written about him or his team and avoids projections like the the one he showed to his players, but this move brought a positive reaction.

"In my opinion, a sense of relief: 'OK, let's do what we need to do. We're right there,'" Martin said. "If we play the way we're capable of playing consistently, I think we'll be fine. I just think it's more of a case of, 'Man, I got you, Coach,. Let's do this.'

"At some point, as each individual player and as the leaders of your team, you rally your troops and say, 'Let's make this happen.'"

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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