Strange: As feared, lack of respect for SEC costs Vols

Maybe it's because Tennessee is celebrating its 100th year of basketball. That had to be what the NCAA Selection Committee was thinking Sunday.

You know, a Turn Back The Clock Game.

The Year was 2001. A UT team began the season in the top 10 and faded to the dreaded first-round 8-9 game in Dayton, Ohio.

The year is 2009. A UT team that began the season in the top 15 and faded from the polls has landed in the dreaded first-round 8-9 game in Dayton, Ohio.

Only this team wasn't exactly in fade mode at the end. In four of its past six games, Tennessee has played championship-caliber basketball.

And that's why a No. 9 seed is so hard to figure.

The Vols have four days to rise above their disappointment and face No. 8 seed Oklahoma State on Friday in Dayton Arena.

That's where the 2001 Vols met their ignominious end. A team that had began the season ranked No. 9 and was ranked No. 4 as late as February was last seen as a No. 8 seed, losing to Charlotte 70-63.

Within days, coach Jerry Green was ex-coach Jerry Green.

But you could see that team was in trouble. This one's been on the uptick, despite a disappointing 64-61 loss to Mississippi State in the SEC tournament championship game Sunday in Tampa, Fla.

Coach Bruce Pearl said Saturday he thought a tournament title could lift the Vols into the 4-5 seed range. Granted, Pearl looks through orange-tinted lenses. And granted, they lost Sunday to an underdog.

But a 9?

Here's another theory. Maybe all the talk about RPI and strength of schedule is baloney.

Maybe what the committee really values is a team's ability to execute an in-bounds play in the final seconds.

No, at the end of the day what cost the Vols was the utter lack of respect for the SEC this season.

It's been a national talking point since December. Auburn coach Jeff Lebo wasn't far wrong Saturday when he joked that even the SEC's automatic bid that goes to the tournament champion might be rescinded this year.

If Mississippi State hadn't won the tournament, it was bound for the NIT, along with Florida, South Carolina and Auburn, the SEC's other NCAA bubble boys.

State's reward for winning four games in four days: a No. 13 seed and a date with No. 4 Washington in Portland, Ore.

Think that's bad? Check out LSU's reward for winning the SEC regular-season grind: a No. 8 seed. Beat Butler and you get to play North Carolina in Greensboro.

Since the NCAA bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the SEC regular-season champion has never been handed a No. 8 seed. Never.

Any outright SEC regular-season champion since 1990 has been no worse than a No. 4.

Let's get back to Tennessee, which hasn't been seeded this low since the 1989 Vols were a No. 10.

The committee clearly wasn't impressed with those four recent wins: on the road at Florida and South Carolina, then in the tournament against Alabama and Auburn.

Yes, committee nodded, the Vols played well. But they were playing competition from that stiff of a league, the SEC.

Pearl knew just good results in the SEC wouldn't be enough. That's why he scheduled marquee non-conference games for the fourth consecutive year.

That aggressive strategy helped UT earn a No. 2 seed in 2006, a No. 5 seed in 2007 and a No. 2 seed in 2008.

The difference this year was UT didn't win enough of those marquee games. The 2007 team had 10 losses on Selection Sunday. But it earned a No. 5 seed because it had wins over Memphis, Texas and Oklahoma State. And in those days, beating Florida meant something.

Starting from a 2 or a 5, a Sweet 16 trip is highly doable. Starting from the 8-9 game, that's another story.

But the Vols should take heart at this information: In five of the past six tournaments, at least two teams seeded 9 or higher reached the Sweet 16. Three did so last year.

Villanova (a 12) beat a No. 1 last year. UAB (a 9) did likewise in 2004. In 2006 George Mason (an 11) danced all the way to the Final Four.

You might not like the seed, but there's a reason they play the games.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276.

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Comments » 22

zigvol writes:

go vols

The_Mayor writes:

Has anyone mentioned suspicision or possibilitiy that since the NCAA selection committee was chaired this year by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive, that the human nature thing to do might be an overkill effort to NOT show favoritism to the SEC, both in number of teams that got in, as well as the awful sedings of those who did? Just wondering.

Ironcity writes:

Bad year for the SEC. The game today reflected the SEC as a whole. Neither team took control each seemed incapable of putting the other away. If Smith and Chism can relax and enjoy the moment instead of acting like they are caring around a two ton anvil then UT could make it to the next weekend. If Smith keeps playing as if 8 men are defending him at all times then it could be a short tourney.

Ironcity writes:

I would not be surprised if none of the refs from the SEC made it to the NCAA. Has their been a worse year ref wise in this conference?

Volborn writes:

I hope "0" SEC refs make the tourney. They have proven over the years that they are worse than Conference USA. I've never seen so many botched calls(both ways)in the last 2 minutes of a game. Heck, the clock operator didn't even start the clock for 2 of the inbounds plays. Then the guys on the floor only correct it once. I've seen high schools refs this year that are better.

Laydbakvol writes:

Tough loss Sunday. Seeding stinks, but hey, you're going to going to have to beat a top seed anyway if you want the whole tamale. Might as well make it sooner than later. Sorry, make that sooner AND later.
Go Vols! Bring your A game!

elizabethtonvol72 writes:

in response to Ironcity:

I would not be surprised if none of the refs from the SEC made it to the NCAA. Has their been a worse year ref wise in this conference?

We can only hope none of them go! That would be bad getting worse!!

WeLoveTennesseeVols writes:

in response to zigvol:

go vols

kiss my yo0u uuuuu know what negative sports "know it all" writers, so we are underdogs, so what!!!!! Makes Victory just so much sweeter. Remember we have lives to live, sports writers live to write! And write to live, they are more interested in living than in us surviving! We have to be for ourselves and for our teams! No one else cares but us! And we almost beat Miss State. If we had won, Chism and Smith would have gone pro, now? What?

VolWoman writes:

I thought that all four #1 seeds made it to the final four last year??

eb502us#225637 writes:

We have no room for complaints about the seed.

Everyone knows the SEC was horrible this year and yet all we could muster is a 10-6 league record. Add in the fact that we blew an opportunity to win the East outright at home against Alabama, blew a chance to win the SEC championship against MSU, and basically played the last 3/4 of the season 2 games over .500.

We were 12-10 our last 22 games and 6-4 in our last 10 games. That record is not going to get you into any tournament, much less the NCAA, regardless of who you play.

Sure we played a tough schedule but our only good win was against Marquette even though we beat a few other low seeds in the tournament.

We are basically a team that started strong and finished weak. No other way around it.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Soon quiet will settle across the SEC Bball landscape.

Worst overall year in memory. Would not be surprised to see all go out in 1st round.

abnerPeabody writes:

in response to eb502us#225637:

We have no room for complaints about the seed.

Everyone knows the SEC was horrible this year and yet all we could muster is a 10-6 league record. Add in the fact that we blew an opportunity to win the East outright at home against Alabama, blew a chance to win the SEC championship against MSU, and basically played the last 3/4 of the season 2 games over .500.

We were 12-10 our last 22 games and 6-4 in our last 10 games. That record is not going to get you into any tournament, much less the NCAA, regardless of who you play.

Sure we played a tough schedule but our only good win was against Marquette even though we beat a few other low seeds in the tournament.

We are basically a team that started strong and finished weak. No other way around it.

Agree.Well said.We got what we deserved and maybe a little more.

Pullingguard writes:

in response to UTfan4life:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Are you kidding... Beat Okla State and you get to play the number 1 rated team in the tourney.. (Pittsburg) Could not have been a worse draw unless you had to play Pitt in the first game...But the Big East and ACC always get preferred treatment..Need to get the SEC commish who was the selection committee chairman back up East where he belongs.

sampears writes:

This year has been very hard to deal with. I want to get behind them and if not win feel like they left in on the court, trying with everything they have. I have always loved our lady vols because they almost always seem to leave it on the court. These guys dont really command respect. Is there ANYONE on our bench that will come in a game and fight, scrap, every play. This has been a difficult year.

Bigger_Al writes:

Mike, strange you say Villanova beat a 1-seed last year. All four #1's went to the Final Four.

Am I wrong?

blitzshoot writes:

Tennessee received the worst seed/placement in the tourney.
As PD mentioned above, I too believe the SEC teams will
be one and done and back home this weekend.
Just seemed like the SEC was a JV league this year compared to other conferences.

volwalk writes:

Look at it this way....we win two games and now we have a #1 seed playing in the sweet sixteen. It really doesn't matter--what seed you are if you are playing well--especially for this team. Look at it last year--we were a #2, struggled against American and pulled out an overtime victory against Butler. Then had to play a Very Hot Louisville team. This year we are #9, play well (ie Al,Aub,FL,SC) and beat OSU and Pitt---take a week off and sitting in a better position in the Sweet 16.

If and big if this team can bring the intensity, shoot 38% from 3 and make 70% of their free throws--they can make a deep run, no matter what bracket they are placed in.

mattucket#231689 writes:

Wait, Villanova beat a #1 seed last year? Wasn't last year the only year that all #1 seeds made the final four? Or wait, if Strange prints it, must be right. Villanova beat Clemson then they beat #14 seed Siena before losing to a #1 seed Kansas. Maybe what Strange meant to say, is that he had Villanova beating #1 seed in his bracket. Or maybe he meant that Villanova beat #1 seed in getting to the arena first?

99gator writes:

when they're right, they're right.

we have gator fans complaining about the lack of respect for the conference this season. only getting 3 teams in, look at the seeds, etc.

folks, we can't have it both ways. we can't make fun of the other conferences in football and then put the stench that we put out on the basketball floor and try to argue that we are not getting the proper amount of respect.

the league stunk this year. the last 10 seconds of the SEC tournament final was all anyone really needs to know about SEC basketball this season.

bowlinggreenvol writes:

in response to eb502us#225637:

We have no room for complaints about the seed.

Everyone knows the SEC was horrible this year and yet all we could muster is a 10-6 league record. Add in the fact that we blew an opportunity to win the East outright at home against Alabama, blew a chance to win the SEC championship against MSU, and basically played the last 3/4 of the season 2 games over .500.

We were 12-10 our last 22 games and 6-4 in our last 10 games. That record is not going to get you into any tournament, much less the NCAA, regardless of who you play.

Sure we played a tough schedule but our only good win was against Marquette even though we beat a few other low seeds in the tournament.

We are basically a team that started strong and finished weak. No other way around it.

Do you know how/why the SEC is bad this year? Or do you believe it because the "experts" tell us it is? We have 6 teams with 20+ wins, and Vandy only one off, 9 of 12 finished with conference records of .500 or better. Florida beat Pac 10 champ Washington, lost to Big East runner-up Syracuse by 5 or so, lost to ACC runner-up FSU by 2 on the road. Arkansas beat TX and OU while both were in the Top 5. We beat Marquette handily, who was leading the Big East when James was lost for the season, beat Gtown handily who beat UConn on the road handily. USC scheduled Clemson and beat Baylor who was ranked 21st at the time. LSU's schedule consisted of close losses to Xavier and A&M, early in the season, both tourney teams. Ole Miss gave Louisville their toughest game, other than their losses, all season, that game was played in Cincy, basically a home game for Lville, and Ole Miss was w/o Warren and Polynice. I'm tired of the media and analysts bashing our conference when they went out and played some of the best teams and played them tough. It's not the SEC's fault that teams like Baylor or Gtown completely fell off the map, so the wins no longer mean anything. When USC plays like they're capable or Auburn plays like they have been over the last 12 games, I'll put them up to fight any comparable team from another conference. Auburn vs Illinois? USC vs Arizona St? I'll take the SEC everytime thank you! When the ACC has no dominant team in football this past season they're considered "balanced" and get 10 of 12 teams in bowls, when the scenario is the same for SEC basketball where termed "weak" therefore our conference is punished. Seems as though there's a double standard across sports and geographic regions. Yall can say what you want about Miss St but they're a damn good team and a 13 seed is a slap in the face. I live in Bowling Green, KY home of WKU, and here's something to munch on...WKU got a 12 seed (very deservingly too) Miss St got a 13 seed, Miss St beat Western by 27 in January! It doesn't add up to me.

bluetiger writes:

in response to supersmo18:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Man, some of you Vols fans are so obsessed with Memphis.

I think your hatred of us is more powerful than the support for your own team.

Sad. And so pointless.

easymoney writes:

in response to blitzshoot:

Tennessee received the worst seed/placement in the tourney.
As PD mentioned above, I too believe the SEC teams will
be one and done and back home this weekend.
Just seemed like the SEC was a JV league this year compared to other conferences.

A nine seed is heck alot better than a NO seed or a 5 Seed in the NIT....what does it matter whether we play Pitt in the second game or the sweet 16...We probably have a better chance early beating them because after 3 or 4 wins we get too laid back and play like a 9 seed high school team.

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