By Alex Norman
The Southeastern Conference might be the gold standard in football, but in men’s basketball it is lower than bronze.
With the exception of Florida, do you feel confident in any of these teams come NCAA tournament time?
The Gators will be a number one seed, and Kentucky, with their roster 5-star recruits and overrated coach (yes, I said it… come at me Wildcats fan-bro) will likely be seeded in the 4-5 range… but should any other SEC team get in?
The SEC is praying that a team not named Florida or Kentucky wins their upcoming tournament, securing that third spot in the field of 68.
Because I don’t think any other team is deserving of the call otherwise… and that includes Tennessee.
And that is absolutely unacceptable.
Yes, 5-star freshman guard Robert Hubbs was lost for the season with a shoulder injury in December, and yes, senior forward Jeronne Maymon has apparently not fully recovered from a year off due to knee surgeries. He’s put up good, but not great numbers.
But there is no reason why Tennessee should once again be fighting for a place at the table.
Vols head coach Cuonzo Martin is entering the Buzz Peterson zone. This is the zone where people don’t want to fire him simply because he is a nice guy. That’s the only reason. That isn’t fair because Martin is a much better coach than Peterson ever was at Tennessee. But the results have not been there.
Time and time again the Vols have struggled in close games. Their 3-10 record in contests decided by 9 points or less is really hard to wrap your mind around, especially considering how woeful the SEC has been this season.
Tennessee lost by 4 in Nashville to a Vanderbilt team apparently playing with intramural players and fans picked out of the stands.
Tennessee was swept by a mediocre Texas A&M team when Antwan Space hit a three pointer in the final seconds on both occasions. Space has only made 9 three-point baskets all season.
They are losing to teams they shouldn’t, and the responsibility starts with the coaching staff.
If Tennessee doesn’t make it to the NCAA tournament, will Cuonzo Martin keep his job?
If you listen to local sports talk radio, the answer is no. But as much as callers like to think they have influence, they don’t. Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart does what he wants, regardless of the average Tennessee fan. The combining of athletic departments, the lawsuits involving former Tennessee employees, the dismissals of folks like Bud Ford and Debby Jennings… proof that Hart is not concerned with perceptions.
Martin is also hurt by the impending lifting of Bruce Pearl’s NCAA show-cause penalty in August. Seemingly, Pearl would be re-hired by any school very soon. A large majority of Tennessee fans would sell their plasma if it meant Pearl would be back on the Tennessee sidelines.
At last look, an on-line petition to “Bring Back Bruce” has over 26,720 signatures, with the number growing every hour.
Pearl still has his share of enemies in high places at the University of Tennessee, but if the powers that be are concerned about the dwindling attendance and fewer bags of popcorn being sold at Thompson-Boling Arena, what will they expect to see next year when seniors Jordan McRae and Maymon are gone, and junior Jarnell Stokes likely leaves as well?
Sometimes when the ball is rolling downhill, it picks up enough speed that there is no way to stop it.
Martin’s job has been in jeopardy since the start of the season, and it will stay that way until Tennessee basketball achieves a level of success that its fans have grown accustomed…