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Did Phil Pressey shoot Tennessee into the NCAA tournament?

Mar 9, 2013, 6:56 PM EDT

APTOPIX Missouri Tennessee Basketball

Oh, Phil.

That’s the overriding sentiment that seems to rise to the surface every time that Missouri plays a close game on the road. Why Phil Pressey does the things that he does in the final minute of a game is one of this season’s greatest mysteries.

On Saturday, the head-scratcher wasn’t the turnover that Pressey committed on an in-bounds pass with the Tigers down 60-57 with 1:33 left on the clock, it was the three that he airballed two possessions later with 15 seconds left in the game.

It wasn’t close; Pressey missed it wide-right by about two feet. Tennessee would go on to win 64-62.

But that’s not necessarily the point.

This wasn’t the first time that Pressey took an ill-advised three off the dribble on the Tigers’ final possession. And it wasn’t the first time that he committed a bad turnover on a crucial possession in the final minutes of a game. Perhaps the most surprising part of Pressey’s airball is that it wasn’t actually surprising at all. We’ve come to expect it. That’s just who Pressey is at this point: an uber-talented playmaker whose decision-making in crunch time cannot be trusted.

And Tennessee will reap the benefits.

The Vols have won eight of their last nine games. They beat Florida during that stretch. They have a win over Wichita State, as well as victories against fellow bubblers Kentucky, Alabama and UMass. Combine that with solid enough computer numbers and just one ugly loss, and Cuonzo Martin’s team look like they are in a pretty good spot with Selection Sunday right around the corner.

Their work isn’t done yet. They are in the same boat as Kentucky: they probably need to win their first round game in the SEC tournament simply because they cannot afford to lose to whoever they will end up playing. That shouldn’t be too much to ask, not with the way that Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes have played of late. Not with Trae Golden looking like the all-SEC point guard we expected to see this season.

But the bottom-line is that Martin has gotten this Volunteer team to the brink of the NCAA tournament, and that fact, given where the Vols were early this year, is quite impressive.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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