Tennessee Blows Golden Opportunity For Resume Enhancers in Loss to UTEPPosted by David Changas on November 29th, 2013
For Tennessee, the causes for concern following Thursday night’s loss to UTEP are numerous. The Vols showed no ability to run any semblance of an offense against Tim Floyd’s triangle-and-two and box-in-one defense, hitting only 34.9 percent of their shots, including 3-for-21 from three-point range. They allowed the Miners to shoot 58.0 percent on the other end, and played a wholly uninspired game against a Miners team that previously had given no indication it would be able to compete with the team many expect to finish behind Kentucky and Florida in the SEC race. And while Tennessee has a long way to go at this point to even be mentioned in the same breath as the NCAA Tournament, it’s still November, and what may be the most troubling aspect of losing in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis is that it created missed opportunities for two more games against teams certain to be part of the Big Dance.
With the loss, the Vols fall into the tournament’s losers’ bracket, and Friday will seek to exact revenge against a Xavier team that dealt them a 67-63 loss in the season opener. While Tennessee appeared to be the more talented team in that game, it got virtually no offensive production from forwards Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon (11 combined points), and shot a paltry 7-of-19 from the free throw line. The Vols also let Matt Stainbrook, who led the Musketeers with 15 points and nine rebounds, control the game. Xavier is expected to finish in bottom half of the revamped Big East, and it is coming off a performance in which it blew a 15-point second half lead and lost 77-74 to Iowa in overtime Thursday. The Musketeers could turn out to be a quality opponent Tennessee will now have on its resume twice, but a win against UTEP would have given the Vols games against the Hawkeyes and either Kansas or Villanova, each of which appears to be sure-fire NCAA Tournament teams. Now, after playing the Musketeers, Tennessee will draw either USC or Wake Forest, neither of which is expected to compete for a bid to the Big Dance.
Because it plays in the SEC, Tennessee’s resume will be filled with games against teams outside the RPI top-100. The Vols play Kentucky only once, though they do benefit from a draw that will play Florida, LSU, and Missouri, all of which are expected to compete for NCAA Tournament bids, twice. But games against woeful teams like Auburn (twice), Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi State will not help Tennessee enhance its resume. Outside the conference, the Vols go to Wichita State on December 15, and have December home dates with Virginia and a rebuilding N.C. State. Otherwise, there are no clear opportunities for games against quality opponents. The Battle 4 Atlantis was expected to be – and should have been – an opportunity for Tennessee to play two teams that will end up in the RPI top 50, and set itself up to keep its own RPI strong throughout the year, the potentially weak league competition notwithstanding. Instead, the Vols will leave the Bahamas with, at best, a win over a borderline NCAA team and against a team no one expects to go dancing. So while anyone who has watched Tennessee this season may scoff at the idea of even discussing the Vols and the NCAA Tournament, given the obvious deficiencies they have, the season is a long one, and Cuonzo Martin has shown in his first two years in Knoxville that his teams will improve as the season progresses. Should it work its way on to the bubble in March, it may look back to its failure to handle its business in November as the reason for a disappointing – some would argue unacceptable – third straight trip to the NIT.