Tennessee Vols head coach Rick Barnes had a simple reason for why his team went cold early against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament championship game — they weren’t ready for the big stage.

Tennessee shot only 28 percent from the field in the first half against the Wildcats on Sunday, but they managed to get to halftime facing just a five point deficit.

The Volunteers bounced back in the second half, shooting just under 47 percent. But that wasn’t enough to get past a Kentucky team that shot 55 percent from the field in the second half.

If the Vols are going to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, they can’t come out flat in any of their matchups. And that includes their opening round matchup against Wright State.

Sure, Wright State, the Horizon League champions, seem like a team Tennessee should be able to handle fairly easily in the opening round. But in recent years, we’ve seen some tough No. 3/No. 14 matchups.

Each of the No. 3 seeds advanced past the first round last year, but in 2016 Stephen F. Austin beat West Virginia 70-54. In 2015, UAB took down Iowa State, while Georgia State knocked off Baylor. Suffice it to say, there’s a precedent for a No. 3 seed being upset in the first round.

The Vols will have to make sure they’re ready for the big stage on Thursday afternoon when they play the Raiders, otherwise they’ll be heading back to Knoxville after an early exit.

Featured image via 247Sports

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