Mike Strange: Is SEC basketball worthy?

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONVideo: Vols basketball coach Rick Barnes on finishing games strong | 1:01

Tennessee men's basketball coach Rick Barnes on Monday, Feb. 7, 2017, talks about what goes into the momentum of losing a lead like the Vols did at Mississippi State on Saturday. (Video by Mike Strange/News Sentinel) Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on Vols' NCAA tournament hopes | 1:03

Tennessee basketball is creeping into the NCAA tournament bubble conversation. Head Coach Rick Barnes gave his two cents at a press conference Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONBarnes: Kyle Alexander was 'terrific to start the game' | 1:49

Barnes praises Kyle Alexander, Lew Evans as Tennessee beats Kansas State. Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONWilliams: We knew we were going to play hard | 1:14

Tennessee freshman Grant Williams talks after a 70-58 win over Kansas State Saturday. Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRon Slay discusses Tennessee's win over Kentucky | 1:02

Former Tennessee men's basketball standout and SEC Player of the Year Ron Slay discusses Tennessee's win over Kentucky, after speaking with the Knoxville TipOff Club on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. Chris Thomas/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on the Vols' upset win over No. 4 Kentucky | 1:30

Tennessee men's basketball coach Rick Barnes talks about the Vols' 82-80 upset win over No. 4 Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONTennessee's Rick Barnes on win over Mississippi State | 1:38

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes explains how rebounding played an important role in Tennessee's 91-74 win over Mississippi State on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. Mike Strange

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONAdmiral Schofield on the Vol-Vandy rivalry | 0:59

Tennessee's Admiral Schofield talks on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, about Tennessee's rivalry with Vanderbilt, representing the "Power T" brand and playing with more swagger. Mike Strange

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONTennessee's Rick Barnes on on-court communication and new Vandy coach Bryce Drew | 1:26

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes talks on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, about communication on the court and recruiting new Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew while Barnes was coaching at Clemson. Mike Strange

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on the Vols' 70-60 loss to South Carolina on Wednesday | 1:22

Tennessee's coach was disappointed to see the Vols commit 22 turnovers in a 70-60 loss to South Carolina on Wednesday night. MIKE STRANGE/THE NEWS SENTINEL

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes talks about Tennessee's schedule and South Carolina | 1:19

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes talks Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, about Tennessee's schedule and the South Carolina game. Mike Strange

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on Vols' breakdown against Arkansas | 1:19

Tennessee's men's basketball head coach describes the crucial breakdown in the Vols' 82-78 loss to Arkansas on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on win against Texas A&M | 1:09

Tennessee men's basketball head coach Rick Barnes talks Monday, Jan. 2 about beating Texas A&M 73-63 on Thursday. Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONTennessee's Detrick Mostella talks about win over ETSU | 0:55

Tennessee's Detrick Mostella scored a team-high and career-high 25 points to seal the Vols' 72-68 win over East Tennessee State University on Thursday night in Johnson City. Mike Strange/The News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on Vols' matchup against ETSU | 1:20

Tennessee men's basketball coach Rick Barnes on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, talks about the Vols' upcoming game at ETSU. Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONTennessee's Lamonte Turner after win over Tennessee Tech | 0:48

Post-game comments by the University of Tennessee's Lamonte Turner after the Vols' 74-68 win over Tennessee Tech on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, in Thompson-Boling Arena. Mike Strange

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONLamonte Turner has big 3-point night | 0:57

Tennessee's Lamonte Turner made 7 3 pointers against Presbyterian in the Vols' 90-50 win Tuesday night, Dec. 6, 206, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee. Mike Strange

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on playing Georgia Tech | 0:57

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes talks on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, about Saturday opponent Georgia Tech. (Mike Strange / News Sentinel)

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on the Maui Invitational | 1:02

Tennessee basketball head coach Rick Barnes discussed the benefits of the Maui Invitational to a young team on Monday, Nov. 29. Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONJordan Bowden on Vols' win over Appalachian State | 0:56

Jordan Bowden, a Tennessee freshman from Knox County's Carter High School, talks after the Vols' win over Appalachian State on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on App State | 1:28

Tennessee head basketball coach Rick Barnes previews the Vols' game against App State, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on Vols loss to Chattanooga | 1:23

Rick Barnes on Vols loss to Chattanooga Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONDerek Mostella on team chemistry | 0:50

Derek Mostella discusses team chemistry Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on Tennessee basketball, 11.7.16 | 1:29

University of Tennessee head basketball coach talks about the Vols at a media availability on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONVols' John Fulkerson on Vols' exhibition win | 1:02

Vols John Fulkerson on Vols' exhibition win Mike Strange/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONUT men's basketball coach Rick Barnes discusses team encouragement | 1:44

UT men's basketball coach Rick Barnes talks about the importance of teammates encouraging one another. Johnathan Toye/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONQ&A: Tennessee freshman Jalen Johnson | 5:40

Tennessee basketball freshman small forward Jalen Johnson sits down for a question and answer session with the News Sentinel. (GRANT RAMEY / NEWS SENTINEL) Grant Ramey

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONRick Barnes on searching for consistency and a starting five | 1:06

Tennessee men's basketball coach Rick Barnes discusses his team's inconsistencies and the search for a starting five before practice at Pratt Pavilion on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. Grant Ramey/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONTennessee men's basketball practice highlights | 2:09

Sights and sounds from Tennessee men's basketball practice at Pratt Pavilion on Friday, Oct. 12, 2016. Grant Ramey/News Sentinel

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VIDEOS: TENNESSEE VOLS BASKETBALL 2016-17 SEASONTennessee basketball's four North Carolina signees | 6:29

Tennessee basketball incoming freshmen John Fulkerson, Grant Williams, Jalen Johnson and Kwe Parker – all from North Carolina – discuss signing with the Vols and what's next. (Video by Grant Ramey/News Sentinel)

30 of 30

  • Video: Vols basketball coach Rick Barnes on finishing games strong
  • Rick Barnes on Vols' NCAA tournament hopes
  • Barnes: Kyle Alexander was 'terrific to start the game'
  • Williams: We knew we were going to play hard
  • Ron Slay discusses Tennessee's win over Kentucky
  • Rick Barnes on the Vols' upset win over No. 4 Kentucky
  • Tennessee's Rick Barnes on win over Mississippi State
  • Admiral Schofield on the Vol-Vandy rivalry
  • Tennessee's Rick Barnes on on-court communication and new Vandy coach Bryce Drew
  • Rick Barnes on the Vols' 70-60 loss to South Carolina on Wednesday
  • Rick Barnes talks about Tennessee's schedule and South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes on Vols' breakdown against Arkansas
  • Rick Barnes on win against Texas A&M
  • Tennessee's Detrick Mostella talks about win over ETSU
  • Rick Barnes on Vols' matchup against ETSU
  • Tennessee's Lamonte Turner after win over Tennessee Tech
  • Lamonte Turner has big 3-point night
  • Rick Barnes on playing Georgia Tech
  • Rick Barnes on the Maui Invitational
  • Jordan Bowden on Vols' win over Appalachian State
  • Rick Barnes on App State
  • Rick Barnes on Vols loss to Chattanooga
  • Derek Mostella on team chemistry
  • Rick Barnes on Tennessee basketball, 11.7.16
  • Vols' John Fulkerson on Vols' exhibition win
  • UT men's basketball coach Rick Barnes discusses team encouragement
  • Q&A: Tennessee freshman Jalen Johnson
  • Rick Barnes on searching for consistency and a starting five
  • Tennessee men's basketball practice highlights
  • Tennessee basketball's four North Carolina signees

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes watches a play against Auburn in the first half of their NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Auburn, Ala.(Photo: Todd J. Van Emst/AP)

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Tennessee vs. California at the First Four in Dayton.

If only USA Today‘s NCAA men‘s basketball bracket projection Monday comes to pass (It won‘t).  Wouldn‘t that be an interesting night for Vol basketball fans, revisiting former coach Cuonzo Martin in the Big Dance. Think of all the factions that would weigh in.

Despite a bad loss at Mississippi State on Saturday, USA Today‘s bracket has the Vols clinging to the First Four by the width of Grant Williams‘ fingernails.

In another bracket, Joe Lunardi‘s on ESPN, the Vols were in the “First four out” Monday. Lunardi likes Arkansas better. USA Today gives the Vols the nod over the Razorbacks.

With eight regular-season games to play, Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina are in solid shape to make the tournament. As has been the case lately, the SEC is scrapping to get a fourth team into the bracket.

Will it be Arkansas or Tennessee? Or Georgia? Or…nobody.

Meanwhile, the ACC has 10 teams in Lunardi‘s bracket. Seven – seven – of the Big 12‘s 10 members are in. Half the Big Ten‘s 14 teams are in.

The SEC? When does spring practice start?

“I think our league is so much better than people think it is from a perception out there,‘‘ Barnes said Monday.

I can‘t tell you how many times I‘ve written that quote, or a similar one, over the years. From every Tennessee coach I‘ve covered and from most of the other coaches in the conference.  I‘ll bet an archivist could find those words coming out of Adolph Rupp‘s mouth.

In four of the past five seasons, only three SEC teams were selected for the NCAA tournament. Last year, a 24-win (regular season) South Carolina team was passed over. In 2014, a 21-win Arkansas team wasn‘t deemed worthy. In 2013, Kentucky and Alabama, both with 21 wins, both 12-6 in the SEC, were snubbed. So was 20-win Tennessee.

Is perception a factor? Never mind that in 2014 when only Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee were picked, the Gators and Wildcats reached the Final Four and the Vols lost a Sweet 16 game to Michigan on the final possession.

Last March, a couple of days after another three-team Selection Sunday – Kentucky, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt – new SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announced the appointment of Mike Tranghese as a special consultant for basketball. Tranghese is a former Big East Conference commish and veteran of the NCAA tournament selection committee.

Barnes also lauds Sankey for appointing veteran ref Mark Whitehead as supervisor of SEC officiating. That‘s another story for another day.

Tranghese is the latest hired gun to help the SEC upgrade its lackluster hoops image. Barnes liked what Tranghese brought to the table at the SEC spring meetings.

“I thought, and heard many coaches say they thought it was the best dialogue we‘ve ever had,‘‘ Barnes said Monday. “Mike‘s been around a long time. I thought it was a great move by the commissioner.‘‘

But here we are in February with only three SEC teams in good shape. As long as the SEC is not held in high esteem, all those teams living in bubble land might well be at a disadvantage when the selection committee hunkers down.

Look at the league standings. Once past Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina, there are nine teams ranging from 6-4 to 4-6. A two-game swing can take you from 12th place to fourth place. Or vice versa. The Vols, at 5-5, are in the thick of it. Home games this week with Ole Miss and Georgia are must wins.

In the end, what will be enough? We never know until the bracket is announced. If you‘re wearing the SEC brand, it might take a little extra.

“Our league is much better,‘‘ Barnes said, “and I know it‘s heading in the right direction because of what the commissioner has done and his commitment to basketball. We‘re not a year away, I can tell you that.‘‘

We‘ll see about that on Selection Sunday.

MIke Strange may be reached at mike.strange. Follow him on

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