Every college basketball season, the goal for every team is to make it to the Big Dance. In order to do so, however, your resume must be deserving of such and a big part of building your NCAA Tournament resume is by notching big wins. Having big wins in conference play is always a good thing, and Tennessee should be able to get plenty of those this season, but history has shown that what you do in November and December is what the committee really remembers.
Don’t believe me?
See the 2010-11 UT season, for example.
Yes, Bruce Pearl was fired that year. But, do you remember how Tennessee still managed to make it in the tournament as a No. 9 Seed with a .500 SEC record and a lackluster finish to the season? Well, it happened.
And it happened because the committee remembered what Tennessee did in November and December. They simply could not ignore the fact that the Vols were able to notch wins over then-No. 4 Pitt and then-No. 19 Villanova.
But why does your non-conference success weigh so much in postseason decisions?
It’s quite simple. By winning those big games, you’re proving that you can succeed against non-conference competition and what is the NCAA tournament made up of almost entirely? Non-conference competition. Oh, and let’s not forget that grinding during the early part of the season against non-SEC opponents also helps your team grow and get ready for conference play.
For Tennessee, beating Kentucky is nice and all, but beating Gonzaga speaks much louder come tournament time. Tennessee will not only have a bout with the Zags to hang its hat on, but many more resume-building opportunities.
Here’s a look at their notable non-conference matchups:
– Nov. 15 vs Georgia Tech (Vols won this game last night 66-53)
– Nov. 21 vs Louisville (NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament in Brooklyn, NY)
– Nov. 23 vs No. 2 Kansas (assuming Tennessee gets past Louisville and Kansas takes care of Marquette)
– Dec. 9 vs No. 3 Gonzaga (Jerry Colangelo Classic in Phoenix, AZ)
– Dec. 15 at Memphis
– Dec. 22 vs Wake Forest
If Tennessee snags a few of these, they’ll be setting themselves up nicely for March and they’ll be afforded some cushion in conference play. If you want to make the NCAA Tournament, win early. It pays off.