The Tennessee Volunteers announced today that they will be participating in the 2012 Puerto Rico Tip-Off. At first glance, the tournament field is not particularly strong, featuring only two teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year in North Carolina State and UNC-Asheville.
Tennessee is coming off a year in which it missed the field of 68 primarily due to a poor non-conference showing. While the Puerto Rico field, which features middling majors such as Penn State and Providence along with average mid-majors Akron and UMass, may enable the Vols to get up to speed, it also puts them at risk of adding a few sub-100 RPI losses to their resume if they do not hit their stride early.
The carrot for Tennessee is a potential game against NC State, a 2012 Sweet 16 team that is a potential ACC favorite in 2012-13 and the likely early pick to win this tournament. While brackets have not yet been released, the Vols should be slotted on the opposite side of the bracket to the Wolfpack. An ideal result would likely be a win over Akron or UMass in the first round followed by a semi-final win over a 75-100 RPI team like Oklahoma State and a match-up with NC State in the final. But even in this case the upside is not substantial, as Tennessee will face enough opponents in the 75-125 RPI range in conference play.
We will better understand how this tournament fits into Cuonzo Martin's plans for his second season once Tennessee releases its full non-conference schedule (which already includes a marquee match-up at Georgetown as part of the Big East/SEC Challenge) and brackets are settled. For now, though, it appears there's more downside than upside to Tennessee competing in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.