The 2013 SEC Tournament is chock-full of bubble teams seeking to validate their respective NCAA tournament resumes, but the Ole Miss Rebels and Tennessee Volunteers are set up to make deep runs in Nashville this week.
Tennessee is one of the hottest teams in college basketball right now and should be fired up playing close to home. The Volunteers have won eight of their last nine games. Three of those victories came against the likes of the Florida Gators, Missouri Tigers and Kentucky Wildcats, who are also on the bubble.
Junior shooting guard Jordan McRae has picked the best possible time to catch fire as well. McRae has scored more than 20 points in five of Tennessee's last six contests.
Veteran point guard Trae Golden has accomplished the same feat in four of the Volunteers' last seven games. Golden only managed to score four points in Tennessee's only loss during that stretch.
The Volunteers should have no problem dispatching of the lowly Mississippi State Bulldogs this afternoon. The real test for Tennessee will be when it faces the Alabama Crimson Tide in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Both teams will be in need of a victory to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. Tennessee is playing much better basketball right now, though.
Had a half-court heave rattled out rather than fallen, the Crimson Tide would have been on the verge of dropping three straight games to close the regular season. Alabama has not beaten a team with a winning record in over a month, either.
Expect the Volunteers to remain hot and face the top-seeded Florida Gators in the semifinals. There will not be any shortage of confidence on the Tennessee bench in this match up.
The only time the Gators faced the Volunteers this season, Tennessee came away with a 64-58 victory in Knoxville. A second win against Florida would all but assure the Volunteers a spot in the Big Dance, but just beating Alabama should get them into the field of 68.
As for the Rebels, they appear to have rebounded from their midseason tumble out of the Top 25. Ole Miss has topped four of its last five opponents, and will only need to gear up for one critical game.
The Rebels will be idle until the quarterfinals, where it will face the winner of the Texas A&M Aggies and the Missouri Tigers second-round clash.
Back on Jan. 12, Ole Miss blew out the short-handed Tigers in Oxford. The second time around, Missouri got the better of the Rebels 98-79 in the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers may be the better team in this potential quarterfinal, but Ole Miss knows it needs a quality win to get itself in the NCAA tournament. Junior shooting guard Marshall Henderson will extend his streak of 20-plus point games on Friday and guide the Rebels to a victory over Missouri.
When all is said and done this weekend at Bridgestone Arena, Ole Miss and Tennessee should find themselves off of the bubble and into the NCAA tournament.
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