I’ll admit I was surprised on Sunday when they announced that Tennessee would face Oklahoma State in the dreaded #8 vs. #9 game on Friday afternoon.
We had been led to believe that with a win in the SEC championship game the Vols might nab a #4 seed and even with a loss they would still get a #6 seed or possibly a #5 seed. What we had forgotten was that this year’s Tennessee team never lived up to the hype for more than a game at a time.
It was easy to be hoodwinked by these long, athletic Vols, who are seemingly unstoppable on paper, but the product on the court has been inconsistent all season. The word on the street was that Pearl’s boys were peaking a couple weeks ago after road wins over Florida and South Carolina, even though neither of those teams was tournament bound.
Regardless, the Vols choked on their home court in the regular season finale against Alabama. Fans seem to have discredited that loss based on a “lucky” shot, but the fact was that the Vols had gone 3-3 to finish the regular season with blowout losses to Kentucky and Ole Miss, both teams that failed to make the NCAA tournament.
The great misnomer about this Volunteer squad was that they deserved a high seed because they played the 2nd most difficult schedule in the country and thus had a high RPI rating. The problem was the Vols played a lot of good teams, but they also got beat by most of them.
Step back and look at it this way, the Vols were 1-5 against teams that finished the season ranked in the top-25 with that lone victory coming in December against #23 Marquette on a neutral court. In other words, when the dust settled the Vols’ marquee victory was over a team that finished 5th in its own conference.
And the Vols’ second best win? At this point that looks like it came against Siena, in November. Heck, Cleveland State had better signature wins than the Vols.
There also appeared to be a problem with the Vols paltry total of 19 regular season wins and 21 total wins. That is the lowest amount of total wins for any single digit seed in this year’s tournament.
In that sense, the selection committee actually smiled on the Vols.
Overall there were two things that worked against the Vols as the selection committee deliberated.
First, the selection committee knew the SEC was no good this year. As a result, instead of rewarding the Vols for winning 10 conference games, they punished them for losing six SEC games in the league’s least competitive season in almost 20 years.
Second, the selection committee was watching the SEC championship game and took note of the Vols’ shooting woes, lack of leadership and most of all their inability to inbound the ball at the end of the game.
My gut tells me that the Vols dropped a seed or two instantly when J.P. Prince played “hot potato” with the basketball after Tyler Smith inbounded it to him with seconds remaining.
With that said, for all the Vols’ liabilities, they are freakishly athletic and I believe capable of playing as good as a championship contender or as bad as, well, Alabama.
If the Vols can survive their first round slugfest with the Cowboys then I wouldn’t want to be Pittsburgh because they will have a #9 seed on their hands that has a lot more talent and a deeper bench than any other #9 seed.
The Vols’ wild inconsistency could work to their advantage if they can channel their frustration from their embarrassing SEC Championship loss and play up to their potential this weekend.
Chattanooga Deserved Better
I breathed a sigh of relief when the Mocs avoided the “play-in” game that some “bracketologists” had them slotted for. However, even with a guaranteed game, I think the Mocs deserved better.
First of all, the Southern conference has proven over the last few years to be simply too good for a #16 seed. #16 seeds should be reserved for the MEACs and the SWACs of the basketball world.
Davidson and College of Charleston both had legitimate arguments for at-large bids to the NCAA tournament and after scraping and clawing to the SoCon tournament final, the Mocs didn’t just beat the Cougars, they pounded them into submission. They put up 20 unanswered points coming out of a halftime tie, something I think I can assume none of us had ever seen before.
UTC played their best basketball at the end of the season and that’s all that matters in small conference basketball.
Coach Shulman admitted that his early season schedule, which included UT, Memphis, Missouri and Southern Cal, was unnecessarily difficult, but the selection committee shouldn’t have punished him for it.
Simply put, if the Mocs had played and beat four Division II opponents instead of playing and losing to four future NCAA tournament teams they would have been a #14 or #15 seed with a 22-12 record instead of a #16 seed with an 18-16 record. And that's not right.
Then again, maybe the Mocs wouldn’t have been as resilient come tournament time if they hadn’t faced that kind of adversity out of the gates. Any way you slice it, it’s just good to have our hometown Mocs dancing again.