Last season, Tennessee put together a strong run in the second half of SEC play, which placed the program on the bubble. On Selection Sunday, however, the Vols were disappointed.
They didn't have enough signature nonconference victories and they'd lost too many conference games to convince the selection committee that they deserved a bid.
Cuonzo Martin hopes to avoid the same situation in 2013-14. But the Vols have already suffered losses to Xavier and UTEP and are running out of opportunities to secure significant nonconference wins.
That’s why Saturday's game at No. 12 Wichita State is so important for a team that doesn't want to enter another Selection Sunday guessing about its fate. A road victory over the Shockers could be the difference on Selection Sunday 2014.
The Vols, who are ranked 15th in adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom.com, have endured injuries. And they're giving freshmen, who are still adjusting, significant minutes.
But they added enough to be considered SEC sleepers. Jarnell Stokes wisely returned to school. Jeronne Maymon is back and healthy after missing last season with a knee injury. Antonio Barton transferred in from Memphis.
They’re all still jelling.
But Saturday could boost Tennessee’s prospects, or leave the Vols in an uneasy position. Last year, the Vols beat a similar Wichita State squad 69-60 in Knoxville. But the matchup in Wichita, Kan., this weekend will be a more difficult test.
The Shockers haven’t lost a game this season and are still feeding off the confidence that they gained by reaching the Final Four last season.
A victory over Wichita State would not only change Tennessee’s confidence but it would enhance its tourney resume. The Vols will play Virginia prior to SEC play, too. But Saturday’s matchup at Wichita State is the most valuable opportunity on their nonconference slate and alleviate a lot of pressure for Martin’s program.