March 5, 2012

Vols' NCAA hopes alive and well

After a furious close to the regular season, Tennessee (19-13, 10-6) gets to enjoy some well-earned rest this week before traveling to New Orleans for the SEC Tournament. The Vols' success down the stretch, which vaulted them all the way to a second-place finish in the league, not only earned them a first-round bye, it's also made them a viable candidate to earn an NCAA bid.

Far more than the automatic berth into the quarterfinals or the regular season runner-up finish, it's the chance to snatch an NCAA berth that could really stamp this season as a special one.

The turnaround fans have witnessed in the last six weeks under Cuonzo Martin has already made the new head coach's debut season a solid success story by any reckoning. But there's no doubt that extending the program's NCAA tourney run to six would put an exclamation point on what's already a feel-good story.

The Vols torrid finish, they went 8-2 in their last 10, has boosted the all-important RPI rating listed on the NCAA's website to No. 75, up from No. 92 a week ago. As of Monday, ESPN's veteran 'Bracketologist' had the Vols on the absolute edge of the bubble, listed as the first team left out of the field, or No. 69 as it were.

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