Bidding for a bid

The Florida Gators, by virtue of an 18-2 record and a top-10 national ranking, are a lock to get an NCAA Tournament bid. The Kentucky Wildcats, by virtue of being the Kentucky Wildcats, are likely to get a bid, as well. The question is: If a third SEC East team gets a bid, who will it be?

The Tennessee Vols are hoping it will be them. To earn a bid, however, they'll need to stand out from SEC East rivals Vanderbilt and South Carolina. That's why beating South Carolina Saturday was huge. And that's why beating Vanderbilt Wednesday also could be huge.

Saturday's defeat of Carolina moved the Vols to 14-3 overall and 5-1 in SEC play, while dropping the Gamecocks to 11-9 and 2-5. Moreover, the win gave Tennessee a sweep of the Cocks, which will look good when the NCAA Selection Committee begins deliberations in March.

"This was an important win because this one separates us (from Carolina)," UT coach Bruce Pearl said following the victory. "A sweep separates you a little bit."

Now that the Vols have separated themselves from the Gamecocks, the next step is to try and separate themselves from the Commodores. Beating Vandy (12-5, 3-3) Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena would be a significant step in that direction.

Conversely, a Commodores' win would move them 13-5 and 4-3, while dropping Tennessee to 14-4 and 5-2. Moreover, Vandy would have a head-to-head win on UT's home floor.

"You've got to look at South Carolina and Vanderbilt as the two teams picked right in front of us at third or fourth (in the SEC East race)," Pearl noted. "We've still got to look at these two opponents as the teams we'll be competing with when the Selection Committee gets around to calling who's going and who's not.

"That's why this (Carolina game) was important, and obviously the games against Vanderbilt are very important."

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