With South Carolina coming into town, the Tennessee Volunteers men's basketball team finds itself in the unique position of having sweeps of three Southeastern Conference teams within its grasp. The Big Orange has already beaten Georgia on the road in a hard-fought struggle in Athens, and it has a chance to sweep the Bulldogs this coming Saturday afternoon in Knoxville.
Similarly, the Vols have also beaten Vanderbilt at home and have a chance to sweep the Commodores in Nashville this coming Tuesday night. Finally, due to a quirk in league scheduling, both of UT's games with SC are still ahead of them, as they play the Gamecocks at home tonight and then on the road in Columbia on March 3 in their next to last regular season SEC game.
With a 15-10 overall record posted so far and big wins over Pittsburgh and Villanova on their resume, Tennessee is virtually a lock to gain a school record six invitations in a row to the NCAA Tournament under Head Coach Bruce Pearl, who, ironically, hasn't won a game he has coached on gameday since beating Memphis at home on January 5th. That is, they are a lock if they don't totally collapse down the stretch.
The odds may be close to even that UT can indeed sweep South Carolina, Georgia, and Vanderbilt. Should they do that, they would win at least four of their last six games on their schedule, with only home games against Mississippi State and Kentucky to conclude otherwise on their slate.
Executing those sweeps would put them at least in third place in the SEC Eastern Division and maybe, depending on what other teams do, as high as second in the league overall. Considering all of the turmoil these Vols have endured all season, that would be a major accomplishment for the year going into post-season play.
Speaking of the post-season, the men in Big Orange have a lot to prove in this year's SEC Tournament in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, a place where they have traditionally done poorly. Getting to the finals of this year's conference tourney would certainly improve this team's seeding in the NCAA Tourney to follow.
Tennessee is in the Top 25 nationally in the all-important College Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) that the tournament selection team uses to determine seeding. Moreover, they have played the 3rd best schedule in America and with the teams they play the rest of the way, have a chance to regain the top spot they held for most of this season of having played the toughest schedule in the nation.
The Vols simply must stop their three-game losing streak, an anomaly in the Pearl era on The Hill. What better team to have on their schedule tonight to do that than Carolina, a club they have beaten the last seven times they have played them. UT needs to catch fire, starting immediately, and ignite a season-ending blitz that will lift them to the goals they set for themselves when the year began.