No. 17 Tennessee meets FSU in Emerald Coast Classic
It took three weeks for the Tennessee Volunteers to return the national rankings.
The No. 17 Volunteers, unranked in the preseason Associated Press Top 25, have stormed to a 5-0 start to re-enter the ratings. They will face off against Florida State (5-1) in the third round of the Emerald Coast Classic on Friday in Niceville, Fla.
The tournament's final four teams (UT, FSU, VCU, Purdue) in the winners' bracket all participated in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The Vols and Seminoles advanced to the Sweet 16. Purdue reached the Elite Eight.
Tennessee has not won a holiday tournament since claiming the 2010 NIT Season Tip-Off under former coach Bruce Pearl.
Coach Rick Barnes saw his UT team earn runner-up honors in last year's NIT Season Tip-Off after losing to Kansas. The Vols finished third at the 2017 Battle 4 Atlantis.
The coach said playing in a holiday tournament gives his team a chance to help itself later in the season when March Madness brackets are revealed.
"I just think you look at these tournaments as not much winning the tournaments, but you are trying to build your resume because there's (more than) one game," said Barnes, in his fifth season leading the Southeastern Conference team.
"It's like when you go to play three games (in a tournament), everyone says, 'Well, you didn't win the tournament.' But you can come out of that with two quality wins."
Tennessee averages 73.8 points per game, and its best victory so far was a 75-62 win over then-No. 20 Washington in the James Naismith Classic in Toronto on Nov. 16. The Vols beat Chattanooga 58-46 at home on Monday behind 17 points and 12 assists from senior point guard Lamonte Turner.
The unranked Seminoles are off to a fine start, primarily behind some hot shooting from the field and free-throw line.
FSU is shooting 48.0 percent overall, 81.7 percent at the foul line and 35.4 percent from behind the 3-point arc. The foul-shooting percentage tops the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the overall field-goal shooting is second.
Florida State's staff has been hoping the extra work taking shots would pay off.
"The last couple of years, we've been really harping on it," coach Leonard Hamilton said.
FSU's lone blemish was a 63-61 defeat at Pittsburgh on Nov. 6, when the Seminoles were impressive at the foul line nailing 13 of 15, but Pittsburgh connected on 22 of its 31 free throws en route to victory.
Guards Devin Vassell and Trent Forrest both are averaging over 12 points per game, and Vassell is sinking 46.7 percent of his treys.
The Vols and Seminoles will be meeting for the ninth time and first since 1989. UT holds a 5-3 series lead.
--Field Level Media