Of the four remaining games on Tennessee’s regular season schedule coming into Tuesday night, No. 8 Florida presented the best chance to get a NCAA tournament resume-defining win and the Volunteers seized that opportunity.
Behind 27 points from junior Jordan McRae, Tennessee beat No. 8 Florida at its own game, holding the Gators to 42 percent shooting in a 64-58 win at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.
The win lifts the Volunteers to 17-10, including 9-6 in an admittedly down SEC this year. Having this notch in the proverbial NCAA belt gives Tennessee the signature win to highlight its resume, along with quality wins over Kentucky and Wichita State. They likely wish they had come out on the right side of their infamous 37-36 loss to Georgetown in the non-conference season, but only have one bad loss that stands out: at home vs. Georgia.
Tennessee ranks 57th in RPI, but can pick up another resume-building win to end the season against Missouri, in addition to whatever wins they can pull together in the SEC tournament. They are helped by a ranking of 36th in SOS, ahead of a team like Alabama (85th) and in line with Villanova (34th).
The Volunteers even have a shot at pulling into second or third in the SEC, however unlikely that might sound. Consider this: Alabama (11-4 SEC) has three games remaining in the conference regular season, on the road at Florida and Ole Miss, then back home against Georgia. Tennessee (9-6 SEC) has Georgia and Auburn on the road, before returning home against Missouri.
If UT can go at least 2-1 while the Crimson Tide loses those two road games against tougher opponents, we could be talking about a more crowded top of the conference.