Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin has been telling his team to ignore outside pressure all season long, but he went back on his word for a brief moment at the lowest point of the Vols' season.
After UT suffered an overtime loss to Texas A&M on Feb. 22, Martin sat his team down. He displayed the most recent "Bracketology" rankings from ESPN's Joe Lunardi, showing the Vols still among the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament field – albeit one of the last teams in.
In all likelihood, the news wasn't too foreign for the players with today's social media presence.
But the message was loud and clear – essentially, win and you're in. And the Vols haven't lost since.
"It's a sense of relief," Martin said of his motivational ploy. "'OK, let's do what we need to do. We're right there.' And again, if we play the way we're capable of playing consistently, I think we'll be fine. But I just think it was more of a case of, 'I got you, coach. Let's do this.'
"At some point, as each individual player and as the leaders of your team, you rally your troops and say 'let's make this happen.'"
As if it were any secret before, it's out in the open now that crunch time has arrived. With the Vols traveling to face Auburn on Wednesday before hosting Missouri to close the season Saturday, failing to win out would undoubtedly leave UT with work to do heading into the SEC Tournament.
Of course, that's nothing new for the Vols, who rode the bubble only to have it burst in each of the last two seasons.
Martin offered a simple solution to the postseason question.
"If you win, the seeding will take care of itself and there won't be any guessing," Martin said. "And just have some fun in playing. You have to have fun. You can't be pressing as a player; it's hard to play at the level you want to if you're pressing."
McRae 'banged up' against Vandy
UT senior guard and leading scorer Jordan McRae was hampered by an unspecified injury during Saturday's win against Vandy, Martin said.
"I don't want to say specifically, but he was a little banged up," Martin said.
In rare fashion, McRae wasn't one of the featured players in the Vols' 76-38 win over the Commodores. He finished with just nine points on 2-of-5 shooting and played only 22 minutes.
Martin took notice of him playing a bit passive with the injury, but reiterated nothing changes for him as a player — the Vols still need his scoring outbursts.
"He's a guy that is built to score," Martin said. "I saw him pass up a couple of shots and thought, 'Oh, what's wrong with him?' But he's a guy that has to score the ball for us. You want him scoring and you want him aggressive.
"But he'll be fine."
While hope springs eternal for the future of UT's football program, Martin's team is more in the here-and-now phase with McRae, Jeronne Maymon, Antonio Barton and potentially Jarnell Stokes leaving after the season.
But the recruiting grind is around the clock for college coaches. And to no surprise, the former Purdue standout Martin is bringing his mentality as a player to the forefront when recruiting.
"You have to be a guy who loves to work on his game to get better — a guy who hates to lose," Martin said of the high school players he is targeting. "There has to be a level of hate in you that says, 'I don't want to lose. I want to be the best. I'll spend hours and hours in the gym.'
"For me, (former Purdue) coach (Gene) Keady had to tell me to make sure I went to class, because I was spending so much time in the gym. I felt like that was my passion. That was my life. And of course you want guys to get it done in the classroom, but you want guys that love to work on their game all the time. There's no such thing as an off day until you retire."