Tennessee, Missouri both on NCAA tournament bubble
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee isn’t dwelling on the potential postseason implications of its game Saturday at Missouri.
The situation facing the two teams speaks for itself.
Both teams are considered on the bubble for an NCAA tournament invitation, increasing the importance of their two upcoming matchups. Tennessee (15-9, 6-5 SEC) visits Missouri (17-7, 5-6) on Saturday and hosts the Tigers on March 8 in the regular-season finale for both teams.
”We can’t add any extra pressure on ourselves because guys will try to start forcing (things) or negative stuff like that,” Tennessee guard Josh Richardson said. ”Just treat it like any other day.”
Tennessee has lost two of its last three games and squandered an opportunity for a signature victory Tuesday night when it couldn’t hang on to a one-point halftime lead in a 67-58 home loss to No. 3 Florida.
Missouri snapped a three-game skid Thursday night with an 86-85 home victory over Arkansas.
”We’ve got seven more games and we’re going to try to get all seven of them, but we’re going to take them one at a time,” Missouri guard Jabari Brown said after the Arkansas game. ”We’ve got a good Tennessee team coming in here.”
A mock bracket released Friday by CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm had Tennessee in the field with a No. 11 seed and Missouri participating in a play-in game. ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi had a bracket Thursday – before Missouri’s triumph over Arkansas – that had Tennessee as a No. 11 seed and Missouri as one of the last four teams left out of the tournament.
Both teams have favorable remaining schedules that could allow them to go on late-season surges.
”We’re trying to definitely win out,” Tennessee guard Jordan McRae said. ”That’s what everybody’s trying to do.”
Missouri’s only remaining games against SEC teams with winning conference records are its two matchups with Tennessee and a Feb. 25 trip to Georgia (13-10, 7-4). Missouri also has home games with Vanderbilt (13-10, 5-6), Mississippi State (13-11, 3-8) and Texas A&M (14-10, 5-6) plus a trip to Alabama (10-14, 4-7).
Tennessee has its two matchups with Missouri, home games with Georgia and Vanderbilt plus trips to Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn (11-11, 3-8).
The problem with these schedules is that they don’t offer either Missouri or Tennessee much opportunity for the type of prestige victory that could really boost their RPI. Neither team can afford many more losses, which explains why McRae and Brown talked about trying to win out.
Palm said both teams might have been better off if they had another shot at Florida or No. 14 Kentucky, the SEC’s only two ranked teams.
”That’s the only way you can get a high-quality win in this league,” Palm said. ”Since those opportunities are gone, it’s actually kind of unfortunate. You really need those chances to get the kind of wins you need to make an impression on the committee.”
Palm said one of these teams still could separate itself from the other by sweeping the two remaining regular-season Tennessee-Missouri matchups. Tennessee currently has a slight edge in Palm’s bracket in part because of a stronger non-conference schedule, which included an 87-52 rout of a Virginia team now ranked 17th.
”Tennessee was able to do a little more out of conference,” Palm said. ”That’s why Missouri’s playing catch-up right now.”
Missouri showed it could run off a long win streak by opening the season with 10 consecutive victories, but the Tigers are just 7-7 since.
Tennessee still must prove it can go on an extended win streak. The Vols are very good at bouncing back – they’re 7-1 after losses this season – but they haven’t won more than four consecutive games all season.
In SEC competition, neither team has won more than two straight games.
The Vols still believe they can put together the type of long winning streak that could boost their tournament hopes, but they understand time is running short.
”We’re very capable of doing it,” McRae said. ”Our focus level’s got to be at an all-time high.”