KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Rick Barnes isn’t ready to start talking about his team making the NCAA tournament, but Tennessee’s second-year head coach sure isn’t counting out the Vols.
“I don’t know, all I know is these guys have played one of the toughest schedules in the country, and it’s a separation month,” said Barnes, who is two years removed from leading Texas to the NCAA tourney his final season in Austin.
“You can talk about bubble teams or talk about NCAA teams, but right now people can go ahead and pencil in teams, there’s a few, but there aren’t a lot,” he said. “There’s probably 150 teams or so in a position to make a push to get themselves into postseason play.”
Tennessee (12-9) won its third consecutive game on Saturday, following up on its upset win over Kentucky on Tuesday with a dominant 70-58 victory against Kansas State (15-6).
The Big 12 Wildcats were projected in the NCAA tourney field entering into the weekend with an RPI rating of 44, compared with the Vols’ rating of 47.
Obviously, the ratings will be scrambled after all of Saturday’s games are taken into effect.
Tennessee returns to action at 9 p.m. on Tuesday at Auburn, and Barnes wants to make sure his team’s focus is on the Tigers.
“You can’t get caught up into that (NCAA tourney talk),” Barnes said. “You just have to play the next game.”
The Vols haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2014, when Cuonzo Martin was leading the program.