There are certain criteria that orbit at-large teams every year in the NCAAs. Of course, there are those top-25 teams that are certain to get in, but for those on the infamous bubble, as Tennessee seems to be after a 3-5 January and a 3-5 start in the SEC, the goals of reaching .500 in league play and the benchmark of 20 wins are more important than ever.
That's why Tennessee's 84-57 win over Vanderbilt (AKA "The Leader") on Saturday was so key. It got the Vols back to 5-5 in the SEC and one game closer to the 20-win mark. But in addition to the aforementioned even record in conference play and 20-win mark that the selection committee is rumored to hold in high esteem, there's also a lot of talk about "resume wins" and what a team has done in its' last ten games when justifying why one team got in and another was left out.
So far, in what at the end of the season will have been UT's last 10 games of the season (not counting SEC tourney play) the Vols are off to a 3-1 start with two wins over teams with a top-50 RPI. Of Tennessee's six remaining games (of which UT needs to win three to reach 20 wins and be 8-8 in the SEC), all of Tennessee's opponents are in the RPI top-100 and all but one is in the top-50 (South Carolina is #93).
It's a good news/bad news situation for UT. The good news is that there are plenty of chances Bruce Pearl's guys to prove their worth to the selection committee. The bad news is there are no chances to rest or coast on the way to March. If Tennessee makes it to the field of 65 next month, they will definitely have earned the trip.