When ESPN announced the Puerto Rico Tip-off bracket last week, Cuonzo Martin had to have been pleased. As the Tennessee head coach finalizes the team's 2012-13 schedule, he now knows the Vols will likely play two quality non-conference games in Puerto Rico.
When the field for the tournament was initially announced, I panned it on account of its lack of depth. But Tennessee managed to avoid any likely RPI drags and can add a few quality wins to their resume if they play well in Puerto Rico.
The Vols open the tournament against 2012 Big South Champion UNC Asheville. This is an ideal first round matchup for Tennessee, as the Bulldogs should once again be a good mid-major opponent, but will likely take a step backward last season following the loss of their starting backcourt. Tennessee should gain safe passage into the semifinals without harming their RPI.
If Tennessee takes care of business against Asheville, the Vols will likely find themselves facing Oklahoma State in the semifinals. Oklahoma State is a likely NCAA Tournament bubble team, so a win over the Cowboys would be a nice boost to Tennessee's resume as well.
A best-case scenario would see the Vols winning these first two games before facing North Carolina State in the championship game. The Wolfpack are a preseason Top-Ten team, so Tennessee would likely have nothing to lose in this game while simultaneously having a host at a marquee win.
Even a loss against Oklahoma State would not be totally disastrous for Tennessee, with a third-place matchup against UMass or Providence the likely outcome. The Vols have skirted a weak field with a draw that will likely improve their NCAA tournament resume.
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