Posted on: March 3, 2012 6:40 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2012 6:42 pm

Tennessee aligning itself for consideration

Cuonzo Martin, right, has pulled off one of the best coaching jobs in the country this year. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander

Tennessee is still in play to finish second in the SEC.

That's more than surprising; it's downright stunning.

The Volunteers were supposed to take this year to learn, get better, grow older and adapt to first-year coach Cuonzo Martin's system. Now, after UT (18-13, 10-6) defeated Vanderbilt 68-61 at home Saturday, the Volunteers' name is getting tossed out in the bubble picture. At least two more big wins are needed for the at-large talk to have legitimacy and logistical reason, but the fact Martin's coached his team to this point is impressive -- and hopefully a really, really good sign for the future of this program.

The Martin hire was considering underwhelming by some Tennessee fans. But this was after the beloved Bruce Pearl was forced out for lying to the NCAA, effectively blacklisted for three years by the institution as well. Martin came in after guiding Missouri State to one NIT appearance and not NCAA tournament berths in three seasons. Martin's done as good of a job already, no matter what happens in the SEC tournament, as anyone could expect.

If the Tennessee-in-the-tournament talk feels premature to you, that's because it is. No one is putting UT in yet, but they're now on the pile. The Vols played the first half of this season without freshman Jarnell Stokes. Stokes is one of Tennessee's two best players, so yeah, that's got impact. Since he started playing, the Volunteers are 9-5. It's not a huge uptick in how they play, but they're undeniably better with him in the lineup. The team has wins over Vandy, a sweep of Florida -- huge -- and that home win against UConn, which isn't greatly impressive ... but if we got down to it, could be a trump card.

Tennessee also closed its season out by winning three of four on the road. The Selection Committee highly values road wins. On the year, UT is 3-8. You wonder if the overall record carries a lot more heft -- considering most of those road losses were without Stokes -- than the recent surge.

To get it really interesting, Tennessee's going to have to earn itself another top-50 win. Getting the No. 2 seed, which can only happen if Florida beats Kentucky at home Sunday, would be paramount, as it would give Tennessee its best shot at reaching the SEC finals, since they couldn't face Kentucky in the bracket until then. All of this is conjecture and optimism, but the fact we're even posting about Tennessee on March 3 in relation to getting a bye in the SEC tournament and still having hoping for the bracket that matters? It amounts to one of the most unlikely storylines in major college basketball this season.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 3, 2012 3:04 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2012 11:02 pm

Poppin' Bubbles: Statement time for bubblers

Iowa State answered all remaining questions about its at-large candidacy with a win over Baylor. (AP)

By Jeff Borzello

Saturday is not just for Duke vs. North Carolina and a trio of conference championship games. The final weekend of the regular season has bubble implications galore. There are intriguing bubble battles, chances for bubble teams to get big wins and other spots where bubble teams just simply can’t lose if they want an at-large bid. For some teams, losing might mean their hopes are dashed even before the conference tournament.

Note: This page will be updated throughout the day, with bubble discussion and analysis.

Locking things up

Memphis: The Tigers are all set after clinching the outright Conference-USA regular-season title with a win at Tulsa on Saturday. They finished the conference season with a 13-3 record, have a top-20 RPI and SOS, and own nine top-100 victories. They could wear home jerseys for the first round of the NCAA tournament at this point.

Saint Louis: The Billikens essentially clinched things with their win over Xavier earlier in the week, but avoiding a loss at Duquesne – without head coach Rick Majerus – on Saturday cements things even more. There aren’t any truly marquee wins, but an 8-4 record against the top 100 and a top-30 RPI will get the job done.

Iowa State: If there was any debate about whether the Cyclones would get an at-large bid, it ended on Saturday, when Iowa State knocked off Baylor to clinch the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament. They now have four top-50 wins, including victories over Kansas and a sweep of Kansas State. The soft non-conference schedule was a question mark for a bit, but there's no keeping out Iowa State anymore.

Helped itself

West Virginia picked up a big bubble win by defeating South Florida. (AP)

West Virginia: The Mountaineers had the biggest bubble win in the first few hours of Saturday, going into South Florida and knocking off the Bulls in the final minutes. The win gets West Virginia to .500 in the Big East, and is their fourth top-50 win of the season. The bubble pecking order in the conference is completely up in the air, but two wins in the Big East tournament would likely get a bid for West Virginia.

Connecticut: The Huskies simply couldn’t lose to Pittsburgh on Saturday, unless they had plans to make a run to the Big East title game. It wasn’t pretty, but Connecticut pulled out a win in the final two minutes. 8-10 in the Big East doesn’t look great, but the Huskies have five top-50 wins, including victories over fellow bubblers South Florida, Seton Hall and West Virginia. The No. 2-ranked SOS is also a huge plus. They will need a couple of wins in the Big East tourney as well.

Dayton: Beating George Washington isn’t going to get the Flyers in the dance, but it keeps their hopes alive heading into the conference tournament. They have three top-30 RPI wins over Temple, Alabama and Saint Louis, as well as a win over bubbler Xavier. Nine top-100 wins are more than most bubble teams can say. On the negative side, the computer profile is mediocre and they have three sub-100 losses. They might need a marquee win in the A-10 tournament; could that mean a trip to the title game?

Cincinnati: For the first time in nearly a decade, the Bearcats went into Villanova and came out with a win. They improve to 12-6 in the Big East, including six top-50 wins. The Bearcats should feel pretty comfortable right now, but the three sub-100 losses and the horrendous non-conference SOS still make things shaky. The RPI is slowly getting better, and one win in the Big East tournament could be enough to get the job done for Mick Cronin's crew.

For a while on Saturday, it looked like the Musketeers were ready to see their bubble popped. They were down at home to Charlotte, before going on a huge run in the second half and pulling out the win. Xavier is currently third in the Atlantic-10 standings, which could be helpful for the profile. It looks like they will need a semifinal win to really improve the profile, though. There are good wins over Vanderbilt and Purdue, as well as victories against bubblers Cincinnati, Dayton and Saint Joseph's. They will be an interesting case.

The Wildcats escaped at Iowa, finishing at 8-10 in the Big Ten. A loss on Saturday would have ended their chances, but now they still have life heading into the Big Ten tournament. They are only 2-10 against the top 50, but suffered zero sub-100 losses and have a top-10 strength of schedule. The win over Michigan State back in January carries some weight, but there's not a ton of heft besides that victory. There is damage to be done in the tourney.

Miami (Fl.):
The Hurricanes were one of the last teams out of the field heading into the weekend, but they stayed alive with a dominant victory over Boston College. With Maryland sneaking into the top 100, Miami has four top-100 wins, including victories against Duke and Florida State. However, the 4-11 record against the top 100 is a huge eye sore and the computer profile isn't overly impressive. They need another big win for the ledger, meaning they have to win a couple games in the ACC tourney. 

Colorado State: The Rams took care of business at Air Force, avoiding a letdown after the huge win over UNLV earlier this week. Had Colorado State lost to the Falcons, most of the good vibes earned by the UNLV win would have been erased. That's irrelevant now, though. The Rams have a very solid resume, with wins over UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State, as well as a great computer profile. Moreover, Saturday's win gives them another road victory (they only have three). One in the MWC tourney should get it done. 

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs did what they needed to do to finish the season, winning their final two regular-season games and getting back to .500 in the SEC. They still have to do work in the SEC tournament, as the computer profile is mediocre. However, they do have eight top-100 wins, including victories over Vanderbilt, Alabama and fellow bubbler West Virginia. Mississippi State will need to get at least one win in the SEC tournament, and two wins would be more comforting. 

The Ducks continue to make a run toward at-large consideration, hammering Utah to finish 13-5 in the Pac-12. However, they are only 3-7 against the top 100 and 19 of their 22 wins are against teams ranked below 100. They are playing well at the right time, and the availability of Devoe Joseph is certainly something the committee will consider. They need to make a deep run in the Pac-12 tournament, though, as the profile is rather barren at this point.

Drexel: As the outright CAA champion, Drexel has a nice chip compared to some of the other bubble teams, but the Dragons need to get to the tournament title game to have a legitimate chance. They took the first step there by handling UNC-Wilmington in the quarterfinals. We’ll look again if they win in the semifinals.

VCU: Like Drexel, VCU needs to get to the title game to have a legitimate shot at an at-large bid. The Rams handled Northeastern on Saturday, meaning one more win would get them there. The Rams have a terrible SOS and two sub-100 losses, but they are very good away from home and did beat South Florida. The lack of meat on the resume could be a problem.

Tennessee: It seems there is another movement afoot to get the Volunteers some at-large consideration. I would still hold off on that talk, though. The computer profile is poor and they have four sub-100 losses. Even factoring in the arrival of Jarnell Stokes, the overall resume is still mediocre. With all that said, if the Vols get the No. 2 seed in the SEC tourney and make a run to the title game, things could get interesting.

Oral Roberts: The Golden Eagles nearly lost to IPFW in their first game of the Summit tournament, but they pulled out a win late to keep things somewhat interesting. I still think they need to win the automatic bid to get to the NCAA tournament, but a close loss in the title game could raise some questions. Zero top-50 wins is a major problem. 

Could the Crimson have survived a loss to Cornell and a second-place finish in the Ivy? We came close to finding out on Saturday night, as Harvard barely pulled out a win in the season finale. Now, the Crimson will wait and see what Penn does at Princeton this week. If the Quakers win, Harvard has a one-game playoff with Penn for the automatic bid. As far as at-large consideration, the win over Florida State looks good, but the schedule is terrible. 

Hurt itself

Kevin Willard knows his Seton Hall Pirates are in trouble. (US Presswire)

Seton Hall: The biggest bubble loser of the day has to be the Pirates. Going into the week, Seton Hall was in good shape. It just had to beat Rutgers and DePaul and things would be pretty comfortable heading into the Big East tournament. Well, the Pirates lost both games, including an absolutely embarrassing performance on Saturday against the Blue Demons. Things are now very shaky for Seton Hall. The Pirates finished just 8-10 in the Big East and have three sub-100 losses. They now have to win at least two games in the conference tournament; falling short of the quarterfinals won't get it done. 

South Florida: The Bulls had a chance to get a double-bye in the Big East tournament with a home win over West Virginia, which would have looked fantastic on the resume. However, they couldn’t make plays late in the game and dropped an important one to the Mountaineers. South Florida is only 2-7 against teams ranked in the top 50, but they have a solid computer profile and 12-6 in the Big East is nothing to scoff at. They need at least one win in the conference tourney, and most likely two.

Washington: If the Huskies had won the outright Pac-12 title, it would be a heck of a chip heading into Selection Sunday. However, after their loss at UCLA on Saturday, it's likely they will need to share the championship with California. The resume on its own is far from impressive. The Huskies have yet to beat an NCAA tournament team and 18 of their 21 wins are from the sub-100 region. The computer profile isn't awful, but Saturday's loss gives them a sub-100 loss. They need to reach the title game, at the very least.

Southern Miss:
 The Golden Eagles continue to make things difficult for themselves, after losing at Marshall to drop to 11-5 in Conference-USA. The RPI is still in the top 20 and they have a 9-4 record against the top 100, but there are also three sub-100 losses. Moreover, by finishing at 11-5, there is little separation betwen Southern Miss and the rest of the league. They have work to do in the conference tournament if they want to feel comfortable come Selection Sunday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide are still very likely to get a bid to the NCAA tournament, but they missed out on a chance to truly lock themselves in by losing at Ole Miss on Saturday. Alabama has a very solid computer profile and a 9-7 SEC record, with 10 wins against the top 100. The lack of truly good wins against the top 50 is something of a wart on the resume, but it would be tough to leave Alabama out at this point. Winning one game in the SEC tournament would solidify things, though.  

Texas: I'm not sure anyone actually thought the Longhorns were going to go into Lawrence on Senior Night and knock off Kansas, but the loss hurts nonetheless. Texas drops to 3-9 against the top 50 and 4-10 against the top 100, which doesn't compare favorably with most other bubblers. They also have two sub-100 losses. Getting the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament, Texas will have a quarterfinal matchup with Iowa State. The Longhorns need to win that one to have an at-large chance. Two wins would seal the deal. 

Long Beach State: A loss in the Big West championship game is one thing, but a loss in the season finale is quite another. The 49ers dropped Saturday night's game late to Cal State Fullerton, and now enter the conference tournament in some trouble. If they lose in the championship game, I'm not sure they can survive as an at-large team. They did beat Xavier and Pittsburgh in the non-conference, but neither win is all that impressive right now. They are 0-6 vs. the top 50 and now have a bad loss on the resume.

More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: February 17, 2012 11:33 am

Hold off on the Tennessee at-large talk for now

By Jeff Borzello

Jarnell Stokes' arrival has revitalized Tennessee's at-large chances. But temper your hopes for now. (US Presswire)

As you know by now, my colleague Matt Norlander is at the Mock Selection Committee event in Indianapolis. He took a picture this morning of the group’s at-large board – and Tennessee was a team under consideration.

Combine that with the fact several people in the media have been pushing the “Tennessee as a potential at-large team” train, and we have a full-blown situation here.

Tennessee?? The Volunteers currently sit one game over .500 with a 1-9 record away from home, four sub-100 losses and an RPI in the triple digits. Yes, one game over .500.

It seems that the reasoning for Tennessee’s chances gaining steam over the past few weeks has been the arrival of freshman forward Jarnell Stokes. Well, the team is 5-4 with him in the lineup, and he played a grand total of 11 minutes in the second win over Florida – he wasn’t on the team for its first Gators victory. With Stokes on the team, Tennessee lost at Georgia and was obliterated by Vanderbilt (and Kentucky, but everyone gets obliterated by Kentucky). It’s not like the team is suddenly some juggernaut with him in the lineup. The Volunteers are one game above .500 with him in the lineup, and one-game above .500 with him out of the lineup.

There is still plenty of work to be done – but Tennessee has chances.

It starts this weekend with a road trip to Alabama. Three of the final five are on the road, and they end the season with a home game against Vanderbilt. If the Volunteers can go 4-1 in their final five games, they will have a chance. They need to start winning on the road, and beating Alabama or Vanderbilt would be another top-50 win. Moreover, 4-1 in the last five would give them eight wins in nine games heading into the SEC tournament.

With no one seeming to want a potential fifth bid from the SEC, Tennessee could step forward and make a run.

But the Vols shouldn’t be in the mix just yet.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 18, 2012 8:50 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2012 9:06 pm

Martin has Tennessee fans believing again

By Gary Parrish

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- I spoke to the Big Orange Tipoff Club this afternoon.

They were nice to invite me.

And they're fired up about their basketball team.

That's the vibe I got from the crowd at Calhoun's on the River, an appropriately named establishment because it is indeed on the river. And it just goes to show how a program-altering signing, a win against a ranked team and a competitive showing against a great team can change the perception of a first-year coach in a matter of weeks.

One month ago, Tenneessee was 3-6 and coming off a loss to Charleston. Consequently, some fans were questioning whether this whole Cuonzo Martin thing was gonna work,  others were asking if it might be possible to rehire Bruce Pearl in three years. But then the Vols got a commitment from Jarnell Stokes, a consensus top-20 recruit from Memphis who enrolled at the semester. And then they beat No. 17 Florida in a convincing manner. And then they played No. 2 Kentucky to a one-possession game while Stokes looked surprisingly comfortable.

And now the majority of Tennesseee fans seem on board.

They still love BP, of course. That probably isn't changing. But they've seen their new coach land his first high-profile recruit and record his first high-profile win over the past month, and they've watched a roster of players mostly recruited by the previous staff start to buy-in. So now the fans are starting to buy in, too. Who knows how it'll all end up? It's still too early to tell. But the tone has undeniably changed in Knoxville. That's what I learned this afternoon.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 11, 2012 12:46 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2012 12:54 pm

Ex-UT assistants now in charge of No. 1 JUCO team

By Gary Parrish

Steve Forbes is one of the Tennessee assistants who lost his job last year.

It was a low point.

A bad time.

But Forbes didn't cave under the weight of the show-cause penalties placed upon he and his colleagues by the NCAA. He didn't disappear from the world of basketball. He instead accepted the head coaching position at Northwest Florida State, hired fellow former Tennessee assistants Jason Shay and Brooks Savage, and now they have a team that's undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association poll.

"We're having a lot of fun," Forbes told CBSSports.com on Tuesday, one day after his team improved to 17-0 with a 69-56 win at No. 4 Chipola. "Jason, Brooks and I spent a lot of time together at Tennessee, and now we're having a lot of fun coaching together down here."

The Tennessee connection doesn't stop there.

Northwest Florida State's leading scorer is Chris Jones -- a Memphis product whom Forbes initially recruited to Tennessee. Jones signed with the Vols out of high school but did not qualify academically and committed to Northwest Florida State within days of Forbes accepting the job. The 5-foot-9 point guard is now averaging 17 points per game. He's on his way to becoming the National Junior College Player of the Year as a freshman.

"Chris Jones, in my opinion, is the best player in junior college," Forbes said. "UConn, Louisville and Seton Hall are the most recent calls I've received about him, so he'll have good schools to pick from. In my mind, he can play anywhere."

Northwest Florida State's next game is Saturday at Pensacola State.

A win there and the Raiders will be 18-0 and one step closer to an undefeated season.

Yes, Forbes said, that's among the stated goals for this team.

They've talked about it openly and honestly.

"I think it's something you have to address because it's the white elephant in the room," Forbes said. "If you don't talk about it they won't know how to handle it, so we talked about it yesterday when the new poll came out and we were ranked No. 1. I told them to be proud of the ranking and the record, and to embrace it. But I also told them to understand that we're now gonna take everybody's best shot."
Posted on: January 7, 2012 2:49 pm
Edited on: January 7, 2012 2:58 pm

Florida can't guard and that's costing the Gators

By Gary Parrish

There's nothing wrong with losing at Ohio State.

Or Syracuse.

But now Florida has also lost at Rutgers.

And Tennessee.

So it's time to start asking questions because with half the regular season now in the past the 13th-ranked Gators are sitting here with zero wins over ranked opponents and two losses to unranked opponents, and they are 0-4 in true road games. Not a single part of that sentence is good. And neither is Florida's defense, which is among the most obvious problems.

Tennessee shot 51 percent against Florida in Saturday's 67-56 win at Thompson-Boling Arena and in the process highlighted one of the under-the-radar truths of this season -- that the Gators are awful defensively. They entered the weekend with a defense that allowed an average of 96.4 points per every 100 possessions, which ranked 103rd nationally and was worst among Top 25 teams by 18 spots. So while it was surprising that Tennessee beat the Gators just three days after losing by 18 at Memphis, it was not too shocking that the Vols scored at a nice rate against them.

Almost every decent team does.

And that's what must get fixed if Florida plans to challenge Kentucky in the SEC. Last season's Elite Eight team ranked 35th in defensive efficiency, and Billy Donovan's back-to-back championship teams ranked fifth and 12. Those are the kinds of numbers that allow you to win in March. What Florida's doing right now does not.

Photo: US Presswire
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 5, 2012 12:09 am
Edited on: January 5, 2012 11:18 am

Memphis shows toughness in blowout win of Vols

By Gary Parrish

MEMPHIS -- Antonio Barton has never actually heard anybody call Memphis soft. So he has no idea if it's really happening. All he knows is that Josh Pastner won't stop saying it's happening.

"I don't know if teams are saying that or if Coach is just telling us that to motivate us, but nobody on our team likes hearing we're soft," Barton said. "We're not soft. … We're not trying to come and start fights or anything. But we're not gonna let nobody walk over us."

Memphis beat Tennessee 69-51 Wednesday here at FedExForum. The Tigers were a few bad things in the win. Like ...
  • Careless with the basketball.
  • Subpar beyond the arc.
  • Sometimes confused in halfcourt sets.

But they weren't soft.

Nobody can call them soft after this performance because Memphis scrapped and pushed (both figuratively and literally) and righted some of the wrongs from its double-overtime win against Tennessee that came in November during the Maui Invitational. In that game, the Tigers were out-rebounded by a 47-32 margin while giving up 17 offensive boards. In this game, Memphis out-rebounded the Vols by a 36-26 margin and only allowed eight offensive boards. UT's Jeronne Maymon got 32 points and 20 rebounds in the first meeting while Memphis' Tarik Black was held to six points and two rebounds. Black got 18 points and seven rebounds in this meeting while Maymon was limited to nine points (on a 4-of-15 shooting effort) and nine rebounds.

Memphis held Tennessee to 36.2 percent shooting, 23.8 percent from 3-point range.

The players fought through screens nonstop with a purpose.

They also nearly fought the Vols.

"We had to show them we're not scared," Joe Jackson answered when asked about the scrum that followed a fastbreak that ended with the sophomore guard being fouled hard. "They say our team's soft and all that. But I'm not soft. And from here on out I'm gonna play with that edge."

The win pushed the Tigers to 9-5 and was particularly fun for most of the 18,334 people in attendance because there's nothing Memphis fans enjoy more than beating Tennessee in something, but Pastner liked the game for other reasons. He knows it won't catapult his program back into the national rankings, and I'm assuming he knows that if you strip away the names this was merely a lopsided victory over what will ultimately be a bottom-tier SEC team. But, still, something clicked. The Tigers guarded in a way they haven't guarded all season and worked to secure missed shots and loose balls. They didn't look like the top 10 team they were projected to be back in October, exactly. But they did look very much like an outfit equipped to run though the Conference USA portion of their schedule, record around 25 or 26 victories and make the NCAA tournament.

The talent is in place.

The points have always come.

The only real questions about this team have been questions about toughness and heart and togetherness.

And, at least for a night, those questions were answered.

"People say we don't play hard and that we can't rebound," Black said. "I think we proved them wrong."
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 4, 2012 3:10 pm
Edited on: January 4, 2012 3:11 pm

Podcast: Midseason awards; Syracuse is overrated

By Matt Norlander

We're in the throes of conference play now, so the podcast takes this opportunity to share the best and worst of the college hoops season so far. How can Syracuse be overrated? Parrish tells you how. To be clear: this is the opinion of Gary Parrish and Gary Parrish only.

I think this is a top-two or top-three podcast we've recorded. Just a good energy and pace and dialogue. Plus, I can't get enough of the way Parrish says "dribbler." If only I could share with you the things that didn't make the cut. Today's podcast was interrupted by profanity, a mailman and a bad Internet connection. It was also delayed in going to publishing. But we're here, and you should love this one. 

  • From the beginning: Parrish will be on TV tonight. Goodman will not. Parrish compares himself to Jude Law.
  • 1:52: Michigan State, Wisconsin and that clock controversy that should have never been. We start with Wisconsin. Should we trust them still?
  • 5:22: On Michigan State, a team with 14 straight wins and angling at a No. 2 seed right now.
  • 9:04: A "Falling Down" reference, which means this podcast rules.
  • 9:12: Who's the best point guard in the country right now?
  • 11:49: The Joe Jackson situation which almost became a massive issue at Memphis over the weekend.
  • 17:39: We transition to Jarnell Stokes, who could be playing for Tennessee soon after transferring there. Parrish and Goodman make the case he should wait until next fall.
  • 22:04: Our midseason awards will be up on the blog tomorrow, so we tease each other and basically insult each other's selections at the end of the podcast.

You can listen to the CBSSports.com College Basketball Podcast every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The podcasts are posted here and simultaneously through iTunes (link below). Each Wednesday CBSSports.com national writers Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish hop on to banter and bicker. Mondays and Fridays are reserved for the most prominent voices in and around the game. Here's the iTunes subcription link. We also have an RSS feed for you to track. I don't believe they are making Zunes anymore, but nonetheless, I've been instructed to link you on how to listen via that device, too.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com