While it is too early to state definitively whether or not a team will reach the NCAA tournament, it’s never too early to look at their non-conference achievements with an eye towards Selection Sunday. For some, their belonging to a power conference will result in numerous opportunities to pick up quality wins in January and February. But for other teams, their conference may not offer up enough chances to pick up quality wins.
The latter situation is one that Tennessee may have to deal with, as the SEC doesn’t have the same number of quality win opportunities as the ACC, Big 12 or Big Ten. On Wednesday night the Volunteers fell to N.C. State at home, shooting just 29.4% from the field in their 65-58 loss to the young Wolfpack. With big men Jeronne Maymon (17 points, 16 rebounds) and Jarnell Stokes (ten points, 13 rebounds) at their disposal the Volunteers still attempted 24 of their 68 field goals from beyond the arc, making just three of those shots.
For a team that entered the game averaging 15 three-point attempts per game and scored just over 20% of its points on those shots, that’s a high number to attempt against a team with a front court as young as N.C. State’s. But this wasn’t about Tennessee losing the game, as Mark Gottfried’s squad showed signs of progress in a season that includes a loss to North Carolina Central.
T.J. Warren posted another double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds, and fellow front court players Lennard Freeman (eight points, nine rebounds) and Kyle Washington (five points, seven rebounds) were factors as the Wolfpack outscored Tennessee 36-26 in the paint.
But of the two teams it was Tennessee who was expected to be a team that would safely qualify for the NCAA tournament when the season began. That could very well happen, but as of right now their best non-conference win was against Xavier in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Tonight’s result makes Tennessee’s last quality non-conference opportunity, a home game against Virginia on December 30, even more important from a resume standpoint.
And they’ll need their fellow SEC brethren to improve their standing as well, because with just one shot at both LSU and Kentucky (they do get Florida and Missouri twice) it’ll be tough to rack up quality wins once league play begins.