Tennessee needed something to break their way last week. They didn’t need much, they just needed to figure out how to close a game. On Saturday against the Florida Gators, they didn’t really figure out how to close, but they won anyway.
On Tuesday night in Lexington, they threw themselves right back onto the NCAA Tournament bubble, closing in a big way.
Tennessee’s season seemed over after blown games to South Carolina and Auburn on the road. Capturing those two games would likely have Tennessee on the correct side of the bubble right now. A blowout loss to Arkansas was a logical point for any team to quit on a season, but this team did the opposite. They hung on to beat Florida, then knocked off the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena after being down as many as 17 points.
John Fulkerson scored 27 points, powering the Tennessee Volunteers to an unlikely upset. Josiah-Jordan James played his best game of the year, scoring 16 points and adding seven rebounds and five assists. Yves Pons drained three key three-pointers on his way to 15 points. It was the perfect storm of offensive production, mixed with a Kentucky meltdown in the second half.
So where does this leave Tennessee? Right back to the NCAA Tournament bubble. Most everyone had accepted that this season was destined to end up with a bid to the NIT, which still may be the case. But Tennessee at least gave themselves a chance on Tuesday night. They’ll finish with Auburn in Knoxville on Saturday, which offers another opportunity for Tennessee.
According to TeamRankings, Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament chances sit at 49 percent.
The Vols are now 17-13 overall. They are 2-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents on the year and 8-12 against Quad 1 and 2 teams combined. A win against Auburn could really give them some real hope at an at-large bid, assuming they can win a game or two next week at the SEC Tournament.
Can they do that? Who knows. This team has been one of the more frustratingly inconsistent teams that we’ve seen. But they’ve managed to give themselves a shot at the tournament after Lamonte Turner’s season ended early, after starting a freshman point guard in January with three practices worth of experience — all while losing Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander and Jordan Bone to the NBA.
To me, you can’t ask for much more.