After a 2011-12 season that saw the Tennessee Volunteers spend much of the year attempting to make up for a poor non-conference campaign, Cuonzo Martin's team has put itself in a position to start 2012-13 off on the right foot.
Following Tennessee's win against upset-minded UNC Asheville in round one of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, it is unlikely that the Volunteers will have any other real shots at a "bad loss" in this week's tournament. A second-round matchup against Oklahoma State will likely be followed by a game against either North Carolina State or the UMass-Providence winner.
While the Wolfpack represent the only true marquee win out of these potential opponents, Tennessee teams have never had trouble recording marquee wins over the course of the season. The concern in recent years has been inconsistent play and the upset losses that ensue, so avoiding a potential trap game in Puerto Rico and the cascade of lesser opponents that would have followed was critical.
Another good sign for the Vols is the manner in which they won. Though Tennessee allowed the Bulldogs to hang around a bit too much, the Vols won this game on the strength of their front line. Jarnell Stokes and Kenny Hall combined for 19 rebounds, only five less than UNC Asheville's team total.
Dominating inside is a great way to stave off upset-minded opponents, as inside play can be much more consistent than guard play. Additionally, many smaller conference teams simply will not have enough size to match up with Tennessee, especially once Jeronne Maymon returns towards the end of the month.
The Vols are hoping to a return to the comfortable feelings of the Bruce Pearl era, when Tennessee teams locked up at-large berths by the end of the non-conference schedule. Though it is unlikely the Vols have already come that far, avoiding bad losses is critical for a team that once again will look to improve over the course of the season.
Tennessee has not yet accomplished anything particularly notable this season, but they have earned the chance to do so this weekend and will be well set up for the rest of the year regardless of the outcome.