NCAA countdown: No. 20 Tennessee
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: For the past two years, Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin spent March disgruntled with the NCAA tournament committee.
His team’s résumé last season was far from spotless, but with a 9-2 record down the stretch and a strength of schedule in the low 50s, a trip to the Big Dance seemed inevitable.
The Volunteers reached the postseason for the second consecutive year, but it came after a snub that Martin described as a “lack of respect” by the committee.
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This season, to avoid head-scratching, the solution is simple.
“I tell our guys, let’s not put it in the committee’s hands. Don’t make yourself one of the 10 (bubble) teams. I tell them ‘Make them understand we belong.’
Tennessee’s mission to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the Bruce Pearl era shouldn’t be difficult with the return of NBA-ready guard Jordan McRae, a versatile 6-6 shooting guard with SEC Player of the Year potential, leading an experienced, deep roster. McRae returns for his senior season as one of three starters, and Tennessee brings back Jeronne Maymon from injury and welcomes Memphis transfer Antonio Barton to replace departed Trae Golden at point guard.
2012-13 in review: 20-13 overall (11-7 Southeastern Conference), lost in the NIT.
Tournament projection: No. 5 seed, at-large bid.
Coach’s corner: “Last season, the part about missing the (NCAA tournament) that was frustrating as a coach was thinking what you could have done better, whether it was in the non-conference or SEC. We finished strong, but we didn’t get out of the gate the way we could have. Our guys have to understand that every second counts, whether that’s in games or practices. We learned some valuable lessons last year and I think the guys coming back grew from it.” — Martin, now in his third season with the Volunteers.
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Star watch: McRae averaged 15.3 points per game and his decision to bypass the NBA for another year in Knoxville makes Tennessee a contender in the … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 20 Tennessee, click here.]