Tennessee is one of the youngest basketball teams in the country, but Rick Barnes' youngsters are growing up faster than anybody could have imagined.
Despite having just two upperclassmen on the roster, the youthful Vols have rebounded from a slow start to the year to win four straight games. At 13-9 overall and 5-4 in the SEC, the Vols have played themselves into the NCAA Tournament discussion in a year most figured would be a rebuilding project.
But the return of freshman point guard Jordan Bone from injury coupled with the continued emergence of fellow newcomers Grant Williams and Jordan Bowden has this team on a roll. While the record doesn't necessarily jump off the page as tournament worthy, the Vols' recent play has.
In the past two and a half weeks, Tennessee has won four of five games, including convincing road wins at Vanderbilt and Auburn, and a 17-point victory over a much improved Mississippi State squad in Knoxville.
Tennessee's biggest win came last week in an 82-80 upset of no. 4 Kentucky. The Vols then followed that up with a 12-point win over Kansas State. Before Saturday's meeting at Thompson-Bowling Arena, the Wildcats had lost four games by a combined total of 14 points.
In short, these Vols pass the eye test.
The remaining nine games will determine whether this team truly is a NCAA Tournament team or not. Barnes guessed last week that there's probably 150 teams still in the running for those precious 68 tourney bids, so there's still work to be done starting with Saturday's return trip to Mississippi State.
Tennessee probably needs to win six of it's final nine games of the regular season to have a good enough resume to feel like it doesn't have to win the SEC Tournament in Nashville to get a bid. Given the way the Vols have played lately, that's not too much to ask even for this young team.
Selection Sunday is less than six weeks away, and many questions about who should be in and who will be left out of the Big Dance will be answered between now and then.
But as the calendar flipped to February this week, these young Vols look the part.