We Vols Look to Finish Well, Regardless of the Prize

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 09: Skylar McBee #13 of the Tennessee Volunteers makes a three point shot to tie the game at the end of regulation against the Mississippi Rebels during the quarterfinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at the New Orleans Arena on March 9, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Don't you hate it when your rivals are right? First, John Calipari tells the world that the Tennessee Volunteers are an NCAA Tournament team. The "as of right now" was implied, and just because the selection committee concluded that we weren't able to get out of the giant hole we'd dug for ourselves in time for the party doesn't mean Calipari wasn't right. Yes, that was as painful to type as it was to read.

Then Calipari says that the Vols' success in the NIT will depend on the team's attitude about the consolation prize:

I would suggest they will have a good run in the NIT -- if they choose that,’’ Calipari said on Monday’s SEC coaches teleconference. "A lot of teams go in there and they’re mad about having to play in the NIT."

Steaming piles of excrement, the man is right again. And even though this headline says that motivation for our guys isn't going to be a problem, Cuonzo isn't so sure, and he's asking us fans to help:

"We're glad to get a chance to keep playing, but also to keep playing at home," Martin said. "That can be important in a match-up like this. Guys might come out flat, and if that happens, playing in front of the home crowd can get you over the hump. Hopefully that won't be the case as far as our intensity, I don't think it will."

That statement attempts to stem negative thoughts by thinking positively, but it also contains some seriously anxious hedging. If you cut through all of it, though, the gist is that Cuonzo agrees with Calipari, and he knows that Job One is to get the guys' heads right about the NIT. And he thinks that playing at home may help.

But whether the home crowd will actually help depends on whether the home crowd's minds are right about the NIT. Will the crowd come out flat, disappointed about playing an opponent they've never heard of? Shoot, will we come out at all? Mike Griffith says that attendance estimates range from 5,000 to 14,000, meaning nobody has the foggiest idea. To mitigate the risk, UT is giving the first 500 student tickets away for free, and rest of the tickets are not only a mere $10 each, they are general admission, so you can sit where you please.

And really, the NIT provides the team and fans alike with a terrific opportunity to replace that sick feeling we had after the Ole Miss game in the SEC Tournament with something much better. Think of it this way, with the exception of some fluky scenarios, all but two college basketball teams conclude their seasons with losses and the consequent sick feelings. We have a real opportunity to be one of those two teams. Positive momentum feels good, y'all.

Cuonzo's doing what he can to make sure his guys have the right attitude and are ready to compete. And UT is doing its part to make sure that attending the game and cheering on the team is an attractive option. That leaves us. Let's finish well.

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