Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
Attention bubble dwellers – it is time to make room for the Tennessee Volunteers. After a rousing victory over the SEC’s best in #8 Florida, the Vols are officially back in the NCAA Tournament picture. If you are feeling as if you have seen this movie before, it’s probably because you have. A year ago, Cuonzo Martin’s club ripped off eight victories over the course of its last nine regular season games, overcoming a disastrous 10-12 beginning to find their way into the March bubble talk. Losing to Ole Miss in their SEC Tournament opener would ultimately relegate last year’s Vols to the NIT, but this season’s bunch has a chance to script a different ending. More work left to be done for certain, but a late February six-game winning streak is a good place to start if you are looking to re-enter the NCAA discussion.
While the Vols may have reached their aesthetical nadir back in December after posting a total of 74 points in two games against Georgetown and Virginia (yes, I said total), it isn’t as if Cuonzo Martin’s club is all of a sudden winning pretty. Their adjusted tempo still places them in the bottom fifth of Division I basketball, and Tuesday night’s win over the Gators saw just one Vol in double figures, with Jordan McRae continuing his strong play by posting a game-high 27 points. Grinding pace aside, the team’s overall offensive efficiency (53rd nationally) is not bad, but the Vols are heavily reliant on getting to the free throw line and pounding the offensive glass — blue-collar efforts that may or may not appeal to the average fan, but that the tough-as-nails Martin has to love.