A spell of Déjà Vu may be casting itself over the Tennessee Vols’ locker room.
A brief history lesson; just last season the Vols entered SEC Tournament play with hopes of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Entering as the fifth overall seed, the Vols recorded only one win in tournament play and finished with 14 losses on the year.
That season the the Vols were one of five at-large teams with 14 losses to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. A loss in this year’s SEC Tournament would put the Vols’ total at 14.
“I do my homework from a history standpoint,” Martin said. “I’m the coach in 2012. For us, we’re doing everything in our power to win ballgames, do well in the (SEC) tournament and get a bid. We just do everything in our power to win ballgames and go from there.”
Rising once more from the ashes in a similar fashion are the Tennessee Vols.
A team picked preseason to finish eleventh in the SEC has taken advantage of a late season charge to put themselves in position to join the 68-team field of the NCAA tourney, baring a few RPI boosting wins in this week’s SEC tournament.
At the seasons tip, Tennessee looked to be an unlikely candidate to make any noise in the SEC let alone the Big Dance.
The Vols opened the year with 10-12 start that included dismal losses to the likes of Oakland, College of Charleston and Austin Peay. But, a late season charge, and the addition of mid-year enrollee Jarnell Stokes, sparked a Vol run that saw them take eight of their last nine games as they head into the SEC Tournament.
With their most recent win coming over Vanderbilt on Saturday, the unlikely Vols secured the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and were granted a first-round bye.
“Our guys did a good job closing out the regular season,” first-year coach Cuonzo Martin said. “They played some good basketball, winning eight out of the last nine games — that’s impressive in any league. To do it at the level our guys did it at, to get back in games when we were down — it’s a credit to our guys for really staying focused and finding ways to win games. I like our chances, we have a lot of momentum going right now.”
In the opening round of the SEC Tournament, no. 7 seeded Ole Miss took down Auburn in a grind-it-out 68-54 win. The Rebels will advance and face Tennessee in round two on Friday, March 9.
However, the meeting between the two will not be the first.
On Jan. 28 In front of an orange clad crowd, the Vols dismantled the Tigers 64-49 in an impressive defensive showing that was headed by Jeronne Maymon’s sixth double-double of the season, which featured 15 points and 19 rebounds.
“There is a lot more work left to do so we can’t get too excited about (the SEC Tournament),” said UT senior guard Cameron Tatum. “We have to go to the SEC tourney with the same hunger and the same fight we had when we played teams earlier in the year. It is a beautiful thing when hard work does pay off; we’re not going to just settle.”
While the Vols took the in-season meeting with the Rebels, working against them is the venue itself. The Volunteers boast dismal 2-10 record in games played away from Thompson-Boiling Arena.
“Every game is one game at a time,” Martin said. “As you go into a tournament environment, that’s my focus. There’s no tomorrow. You try to win every game you play; you don’t hold anything back and you don’t concentrate on the facts that we’re away from home. That shouldn’t matter. You make it to the next day. You prepare to win that game the best way possible.”
Déjà vu for the vols? Let’s let Friday be the judge.