Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Sports Columns

March 8, 2012

Rocky Top Beat: Vols enter March Madness with a vengeance

CROSSVILLE — Volunteer fans finally have something to feel good about. Both the Lady Vols and the Vols finished the season strong and roared into "March Madness" with a vengeance. After suffering through a disappointing football season, it surely was a welcome relief.  

Hanging another banner

The Lady Vols will be hanging their 16th SEC tournament championship banner at Thompson Boling Arena thanks to their dominating performance last weekend in Nashville.

On their way to the championship, the Lady Vols were able to avenge two of their regular season setbacks. 

Celebrating the Lady Vols win over Vanderbilt on Saturday certainly was worth the price of admission for those wearing orange, but watching Pat Summitt cutting down the nets on Sunday — priceless! 

The Lady Vols are undefeated since they have been starting their five seniors. Now they will have to wait until this Monday night to find out their seeding and destination for the next game. After taking over Nashville last weekend, I am sure the Lady Vols faithful are packed and ready to travel to wherever that destination might be. 

The Vols a bubble team?

Cuonzo Martin has taken this team from oblivion to second place in the SEC.  He has managed to make the Vols relevant again not only in the SEC but also outside of the conference. Out working opponents and adding Jarnell Stokes to the rotation in January helped the Vols turn their season around. 

Finishing the regular season in the top four in the SEC gave the Vols a bye in the SEC Conference Tournament yesterday. They will play their first game tonight at 6:30 CT against the winner of the Auburn/Ole Miss game. The Vols will likely need to win at least one or two more games to have a chance for a NCAA Tournament bid. Still, the fact they are even included in the post season conversation at any level after a disappointing start to their season is just short of amazing. 

Calipari gives props to Vols

The Vols needed a little help to finish second in the regular season standings. That help arrived last Sunday when Kentucky went to Florida and left with a victory. During the post game interview, Coach John Calipari reminded the television audience that Tennessee is a tournament quality team. It was a class move by the person that edged Coach Martin out as SEC Coach of the Year. 

Defense first

The Vols have won games the second half of the season against teams with more talent because of their commitment to defense.  That suffocating defense is the reason that the Vols will be a tough out in this post season. 

The Vols a "Cinderella" team?

The Vols destination after the SEC Tournament will not be decided until Monday evening after the NCAA Tournament teams are announced. There could even be another home game on the horizon for the Vols if they slip to the NIT. Fortunately, the Vols can still help their post season resume and that all starts tonight in New Orleans. Even with a few more wins, the Vols will need some help to get an at-large bid to the “big dance."  

Remember, when a “Cinderella team” cuts down the nets in a conference championship game this weekend, it could decrease the available number of at-large bids. That alone could ultimately keep the Vols from making the NCAA Tournament field of 68. 

Peaking at the right time

The Lady Vols and the Vols have both been part of dramatic turnarounds this season. It is always exciting on Rocky Top when a team peaks at the end of the season. With one program adjusting to a season full of adversity and the other exceeding expectations, this has already been a special season. Could March hold more special moments for the Big Orange Nation or even another banner to be hung? Go Vols and Lady Vols!

(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)



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