BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A select panel of SEC and national media members picked Tennessee to finish third in the Southeastern Conference in men's basketball, just behind Kentucky and Florida. The Volunteers got one first-place vote among the 27 voters.
If that was in any way upsetting to third-year UT coach Cuonzo Martin, he didn't show it during his stint at the SEC's media event Thursday morning.
"We just have to be the best team we can be," Martin said. "I don't worry about the polls and stuff like that. If we're successful in our approach, winning games will take care of itself."
The coach believes staying healthy would help as well. Poised to have a big year last season -- "I told you last year I thought they'd be the best team in our league, and they might have been if [Jeronne] Maymon hadn't gotten hurt," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, whose Gators won the regular-season title -- the Vols finished 11-7 in conference play and 20-13 overall despite Maymon never playing a minute.
"We've got competitive practices; we've got healthy bodies. That helps," Martin said. "Right now our guys are practicing like they understand what it takes to be successful."
They certainly seem to understand that earning Martin his first trip to the NCAA tournament may well involve posting much better numbers in the nonconference, where the Vols often struggled in recent years.
"We're trying to start off the season better than we have in the past," said leading returning scorer Jordan McRae, a preseason All-SEC selection (Maymon and Jarnell Stokes made the second team).
"The nonconference games can control whether you're in or out of the NCAA tournament. We need to do a better job there."
It will be a tough job. Not including a possible date with Kansas in the Battle for Atlantis tournament, the Vols will open at Xavier, later will visit 2013 Final Four member Wichita State and also will face North Carolina State and Virginia before heading into the 18-game SEC schedule.
Dress for success?
Tennessee men's basketball sports information director Tom Satkowiak has long been known as one of the league's snappier dressers. But even Tuxedo Tom turned it up a notch Thursday, exiting the Vols' hotel shuttle wearing a wooden bow tie and UT Orange suede loafers.
"I ordered the tie online," he said. "I picked up the shoes at Jos. A. Bank."
Asked if he might be able to persuade UT coach Cuonzo Martin to wear similar threads, Satkowiak said, "I don't think his wife would let him wear something like this."
As for Sat's wife of seven years, Brooke, he said of the shoes, "As soon as she saw me see them, she knew they were coming home with us."
You might think a guy coaching a college basketball team nicknamed the Hogs might be a little nervous about ordering barbecue in public.
But before Birmingham native and Arkansas basketball coach Mike Anderson returned to Fayetteville on Thursday, he made sure to load up a couple of to-go boxes of Full Moon BBQ. Anderson fell in love with the place during his earlier coaching stint at Alabama-Birmingham.
"The barbecue's great," he said, "but it's the people who really make Full Moon special."
And his favorite item on the menu?
"Everything's great," he said. "But the quarter dark [chicken] hot off the grill is my favorite. Tastes like candy."