College Basketball Insider

A close loss to top-ranked Florida shouldn't damage the Vols at all

The Vols tangled with No. 1 Florida and nearly came out on top. (USATSI)
The Vols tangled with No. 1 Florida and nearly came out on top. (USATSI)

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Tennessee, on Saturday morning, was in every relevant mock bracket on the Internet -- including our own Jerry Palm's field of 68. Then the Vols played top-ranked Florida tough on Saturday afternoon before losing in the final minute. And now people are debating whether Cuonzo Martin's team belongs in the NCAA Tournament?

Like, for real?

Let me make this simple for you.

If you think a team is on the right side of the bubble in the morning, and all that team does in the afternoon is lose a close game to a team that hasn't lost in three months, it makes no sense to then conclude that team's body of work is no longer at-large worthy. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that a team at the bottom of the bracket needed to beat the team expected to be at the very top of the bracket to prove it belongs at the bottom of the bracket. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that a team on the wrong side of the bubble moved to the right side of the bubble because it was fortunate enough to not have to play Florida.

Surely you can see how that doesn't really compute.

To be clear, I'm fine with debating UT's resume, if you want. It's obviously questionable because it features four losses outside of the top 100 of the RPI, and just three wins inside of the top 50; that's not great. But that's also not the point because my point isn't to debate whether UT belongs in the field (though I do believe UT belongs in the field). My point is to stress that a bubble team shouldn't be hurt by a close loss to a top-ranked team. Bottom line, if you thought the Vols were an at-large team before they played Florida, there's no rationale reason to conclude that they're not an at-large team after they played Florida -- especially considering the game was close and arguably decided by a questionable technical foul issued against UT senior Jeronne Maymon by an oddly enthusiastic Pat Adams.

But I digress.

I'm not here to write about referees. Florida won. Tennessee lost. It was a tight game. Whatever. Again, my only point is a simple point -- that a team that was on the right side of the bubble before a close loss to the nation's top-ranked team should remain on the right side of the bubble after a close loss to the nation's top-ranked team. You shouldn't have to win that game to hold your spot at the bottom of the bracket. And assuming the selection committee grasps this theory, odds are you'll see the Vols in the NCAA Tournament next week for the first time since Bruce Pearl was their coach.

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