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wasn't far wrong Saturday when he joked that even the SEC's automatic bid that goes to the tournament champion might be rescinded this year.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 email@example.com or 865-342-6276.