The Tennessee coach consistently lines up quality nonconference opponents, and it helped in Sweet 16 runs the past two seasons. After the Lady Vols beat Arkansas 81-55 on Monday, Neighbors said he believes they will peak at the right time.
“They’re a team out of our league that, anybody that’s not paid attention to how hard Kellie schedules is just not paying attention,” Neighbors said. “They’re doing a lot of good for our league in doing so. Not every team in our league does that. We need Tennessee to schedule like she does. I know it’s hard on her to be without Rickea . . . and play some of the best teams in the country.
“But I think that’s going to show up for them when it comes tournament time. I’ve got a great deal of respect for how they do it and how they go about it.”
Neighbors doesn’t pay much attention to bracket projections or what people are saying about the NCAA Tournament this time of season. But if the Lady Vols are seeded “very high,” he said he would hate to see them in his bracket.
“They are tested and they’ve been through it, and they’re not going to flinch when those moments come,” Neighbors said. “However many (SEC games) they have left, they’ve got an opportunity to improve their seed, but wherever they end up playing, I wouldn’t want to see them on my line, because they are tested.”
Tennessee has scheduled hard historically, so part of it is the standard of the program. Neighbors said the way the Lady Vols put together their schedules helps other SEC teams. They’re games that matter and give opponents opportunities to better their chances of getting in the NCAA Tournament.
“Not everybody’s doing that, and Kellie cares about the league, she played in this league, she cares deeply about it. She understands that we all need Tennessee to schedule hard and win games and do what they do for the rest of us,” Neighbors said. “It’s real easy these years to just schedule a bunch of wins and feel good and move along and maybe not be tested throughout the nonconference. But I’ve got a great deal of respect for how they do it.”
Cora Hall covers University of Tennessee women’s athletics. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @corahalll. If you enjoy Cora’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that allows you to access all of it.