For the Tennessee Volunteers, it's been a year of changing opinions on the team's postseason destination.
Midway through the year, many doubted the team's ability to make the National Invitation Tournament, much less the NCAA Tournament. After wins against SEC rivals Kentucky and Florida, they were a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but after a second loss to Georgia the team was on the outside looking in.
Following their win against Missouri on Saturday, however, public opinion seems to be in the Vols' favor for an NCAA Tournament bid, but the same was said about last year's team before they lost to Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
"It's definitely weird," sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes said about the postseason opinions. "That's why I'm trying my best not to talk about the NCAA. I'm just trying to win this SEC Tournament. A lot of people said if we beat Missouri we were in, and some said when we lost to Georgia we were out, so I'm just trying to focus on winning."
Even with Selection Sunday less than a week away, the team's sole focus is on the SEC Tournament because they remember what happened to them last year after they fell in the first round.
"(Last year) definitely motivates us," Stokes said. "Watching Selection Sunday last year as a team and not making it, and then waking up the next morning and finding out you're in the NIT is probably one of the worst feelings as a player, so that's still in the back of our minds."
The hardest part of the conference tournament is the fact that it is on a neutral site. The Vols are 13-3 at home this year, and part of this current hot streak is due to the momentum that the fans inside Thompson-Boling Arena have provided.
Junior guard Trae Golden said that playing on a neutral site is a difficult task and added that the environment forces you to play differently.
"It's different because true talent takes over," Golden said. "You don't really have 20,000 people behind you, rooting you on, you're kind of just playing within yourself so you have to really execute and you got to really play the game smart because you're not really going to have a lot of momentum shifts from the standpoint of the crowd."
While the Vols have won eight of their last nine games and have beaten some of the best teams in the SEC during their hot streak, the team knows that in the tournament anything can happen. Stokes believes that there is no favorite for the title.
"I think it's wide open," Stokes said. "I think Florida was definitely the favorite but they've lost a couple of games to teams they weren't supposed to lose to, and I think Missouri was probably the best team but they somehow lost six or seven games in the SEC, so I think it's wide open. It's about match-ups."
Aside from the team preparing for the SEC Tournament, tomorrow the honor of SEC Player of the Year is announced and junior guard Jordan McRae is figured to be one of the few players that has a chance to come away with the award, even though he doesn't seem focused on the honor at all.
"Is that tomorrow?" McRae said when asked about the award. "I guess it would be cool. Our team is winning right now so we're good."