Well, that should just about do it. The basketball Vols most likely got themselves off the bubble and into The Tournament last night by beating up-the-map rival Kentucky 89-85 last night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Scout.com's Randy Moore astutely observes this morning that the Vols lost to Kentucky by 19 points earlier this year and won by four points last night, the difference being 23 points, which perhaps not so coincidentally is the same number of points Chris Lofton scored against his home state team last night. Indeed, Lofton returned to pre-injury form, hitting 6-14 field goals, 4-10 treys, and 7-8 free throws, most of which were down the stretch to ice the game.
Lofton wasn't the only Vol to have a great game, though. The two-headed monster DuWayne Chews combined for 34 points on 14-21 field goals, 2-2 three-point attempts, four assists, and five blocked shots. Ramar Smith, JaJuan Smith, Dane Bradshaw, Jordan Howell, and Josh Tabb also had solid games.
You may be surprised, then, to learn that the 'Cats stats are even better than the Vols':
|Field Goals||33-67 (49%)||31-55 (56%)|
|3-Point FGs||9-24 (38%)||8-19 (42%)|
|Free Throws||14-22 (64%)||15-19 (79%)|
|Rebounds||27 (13 off, 14 def)||39 (12 off, 27 def)|
Well, mostly. Kentucky had the edge in field goal, thee-point, and free throw percentage and a huge advantage in rebounds. The Big Blue dominated the second half, but the Vols pulled out the victory due in part to several key defensive stops and a knack for creating turnovers, where it had an 8-19 edge. Chews outplayed Kentucky's 6'11" center Randolph Morris on offense and limited the 'Cats star to 14 points and one offensive rebound.
So enough of the bubble talk on Rocky Top. The Vols are now 18-8 overall and 6-5 in the tough SEC East with five games remaining: at South Carolina, Arkansas, and Georgia and against Alabama and The Abomination at home. Two more wins puts them at the magical 20-victory mark and 8-8 in the SEC. Even taking the worst case scenario -- losing every away game and losing at home to Florida -- gets them to 19-12 overall and 7-9 in the SEC. With a current RPI of 14, resume wins over Texas, Oklahoma State, and Memphis, a good loss to Ohio State, solid victories over LSU, The Leader, and The Wendigo, and an explanation for several of its losses (Lofton's ankle) the Vols are, almost without a doubt, headed to the Big Dance.
Time to put the wrap on the bubble talk.
Let's talk about seeding.