The Tennessee Volunteers should be able to ensure an NCAA basketball tournament invitation by winning tonight at Auburn and again Saturday against visiting Missouri.
At least that's how ESPN's Joe Lunardi sees it.
"I would think they were in at that point," Lunardi said Tuesday. "That would be a great win over Missouri to finish the regular season, but what you wouldn't want to have in the SEC tournament is a bad loss. If you're going to go out, then go out against a team that is ahead of you. Don't lose to one of the bottom-feeders in an early-round game and give the committee a chance to exclude you."
Lunardi was a guest Tuesday on "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM.
Cuonzo Martin's Volunteers are 18-11 overall and 9-7 in SEC play entering tonight's game. They are coming off Saturday's 38-point drubbing of Vanderbilt and have a 35-point win over Virginia, the Atlantic Coast Conference champion.
Yet Tennessee also has two losses to Texas A&M, the second of which capped a 1-3 stretch that has been followed by two straight wins. The Volunteers dropped only four spots -- from next-to-last in Lunardi's last four byes to next-to-last in his last four teams in -- during their 1-3 skid, but he said that doesn't always reflect a collection of subpar teams on the NCAA tournament bubble.
"That's actually pretty common in most years," he said, "and I wouldn't say it's a softer bubble or worse than a typical season. More teams are generally playing their way out than in at this point in time, which is why I think they're on the bubble to begin with. If teams were really playing well, they probably wouldn't even be on the bubble, unless you're making one of those late-season charges out of nowhere.
"As I often say, when you get to the end of the line, we still need 68 teams, so somebody needs to play in this tournament."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.