Lethal league

The Southeastern Conference put two teams – Florida and LSU – in the NCAA Final Four last season, with the Gators claiming the national title. That spoke volumes about the quality at the top of the league.

This year the conference may be even tougher, top to bottom, however. That might explain why things are even more unpredictable than usual.

Tennessee beat two nationally ranked teams (Memphis, Oklahoma State) but already lost at Vanderbilt, at Auburn and at Ole Miss. Vanderbilt shocked Kentucky in Lexington but lost to Ole Miss in Oxford. Alabama, LSU and Arkansas have shown occasional flashes of brilliance. Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi State have turned in some impressive performances.

What does it all mean? It means that Tennessee, despite a 2-3 SEC record, still has a good chance to finish 9-7 or thereabouts in league play and earn an NCAA Tournament bid.

"Without question," senior captain Dane Bradshaw says. "Everyone's beating everybody. That keeps hope alive for everyone. It's still early – no time time to panic – but you need to have a sense of urgency coming into every game. We realize that and, hopefully, we'll get back on the right track."

Although this is only his second year in the SEC, Vol head coach Bruce Pearl is amazed by the overall strength and balance evident in the league this season.

"There are 12 teams capable of playing in the post-season right now," he says. "Probably 10 or 11 are very strong candidates for NCAA Tournament play right now.

"The SEC is most likely going to get as many teams as it has gotten in a long way because of the strength of our RPI, our non-conference success and the strength of our league overall."

Then, mindful of his team's huge test Sunday at Kentucky, the coach ended the discussion by noting:

"But that's down the road."

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