Duke lost. Michigan lost. Virginia lost. Tennessee just kept winning.
Come Monday at noon, there’s a very good chance that the Tennessee Volunteers could be the nation’s No. 1 team in both the AP and Coaches poll. The third ranked Vols blew out Arkansas on Tuesday, then found a way to win an ugly one against Alabama at home on Saturday.
Duke fell to unranked Syracuse at home. Michigan dropped one to unranked Wisconsin on the road. Then Virginia lost at Duke on Saturday night. Will that be enough to shoot Tennessee up to No. 1? Maybe, but of course, Rick Barnes doesn’t care.
“I don’t think anything about it,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said when asked about the potential No. 1 ranking. “I think we are going to be in a lot of games like (Alabama) if we are ranked 1st, 21st, or 41st.”
Tennessee last held the top spot in the 2007-08 season after toppling top ranked Memphis on the road. The Vols lost that top spot just days later, ironically after an upset in Nashville against Vanderbilt. Tennessee will play the Commodores in Nashville this week.
“To be where we want to be, you have to deal with that,” Barnes said. “Is it nice to ranked? Of course, because of the attention that comes to your program. You do that by staying focused on what is at hand. You do that by playing basketball and not letting the outside noise in.”
It’s no lock that the Vols will ascend to the top spot this week, either. Duke very well could stay put in the No. 1 slot after a huge win at home over Virginia. Worst case scenario though, Tennessee will be a top two team.
Of course, big picture, it doesn’t matter. It’s January and every top team — maybe outside of Gonzaga — will have nightly tests to get through. There will be plenty of ups with this team and probably a few downs. Tennessee was fortunate to escape with a win on Saturday, for example.
This group probably does deserve the No. 1 status at this point in the season, but you won’t hear anyone in the program talk about that. For Barnes, it’s just about taking it one game at a time and trying to get better.
“We are focused at the task at hand and that is winning another basketball game.”