As one of 16 sites hosting first- and second-round NCAA tournament games, Chattanooga couldn't be more enticing to the Tennessee women's basketball team.
Yet past brackets indicate that the city might as well be on another planet. Twice before Chattanooga has hosted games - first- and second-round in 2004 and a 2005 regional. Both times, the Lady Vols were routed elsewhere.
Can hope triumph over history? The Lady Vols will find out when they gather at coach Pat Summitt's home for the ESPN selection show at 7 tonight.
Tennessee's marching orders traditionally have been the pressing tournament question. In many years, it's been the only real unknown for a team that's been a No. 1 seed 19 times. The location question has been more interesting since the tournament went to pre-determined sites in 2003. This year, it's more compelling than ever for a 22-10 Tennessee team that won't stand out in the 64-team field.
Two projected brackets (ESPN and Collegerpi.com) have UT opening in Los Angeles and Seattle, respectively.
The Lady Vols want to stay closer to home and their supportive fan base. Summitt all but campaigned for a trip to Chattanooga during her weekly teleconference last Wednesday. She referred to her reasoning as "wishful thinking."
"I do think for a young team like we have, every advantage we can try to get, we want,'' she said. "There's not many ways you can get an advantage other than bringing it yourself and play at a different level or have the backing, the fan support that will help inspire you when you need it. I think, for us, it would be a positive (to play in Chattanooga)."
Attendance, or lack thereof, is a big reason why the tournament returned to 16 sites for the opening two rounds, rather than sending eight teams to one location. Unlike 2004, the Chattanooga site will be without a host team this year. The Chattanooga Lady Mocs were knocked out of the Southern Conference tournament and are pointing for the WNIT.
Present circumstances don't change the backstory, however. The Lady Vols were the SEC regular-season champion five years ago, and they were sent to Tallahassee, Fla. Conference tournament champion Vanderbilt went to Chattanooga.
"We're right here and Tennessee fans would certainly come out and support this team if they sent us this year,'' Summitt said. "I'm not sure what, in the end, is going to be the deciding factor."
Other than Chattanooga, the closest sites to Knoxville for first- and second-round games include a trio of possibilities. Only one has a built-in host.
Duluth, Ga.: With host Georgia not likely to make the field, the site is wide open. Auburn, the SEC regular-season champion, figures to be a strong consideration.
Bowling Green, Ky.: Louisville is close and should be a high seed (No. 2 or No. 3). If the Cardinals are sent here, Tennessee is a questionable fit, unless it's a six seed.
Columbus, Ohio: Host Ohio State (RPI 13) could be a No. 3 seed or possibly slip to No. 4. Depending on the Buckeyes' seeding, Tennessee might be a consideration.
As for regional placement, UT's season makes anything possible. The Lady Vols have never been routed through a far-West regional. This year's regional is based in Berkeley, Calif.
It will be interesting to see if Tennessee is placed in the same regional with Connecticut, the overwhelming favorite. The Huskies are likely to be pointed toward the Trenton, N.J., regional.
The other regional sites are Raleigh, N.C., and Oklahoma City.
Notebook: Freshman forward Glory Johnson has suffered a jammed middle finger on her right hand and will visit Dr. Rebecca Morgan, the team physician, this morning.
Johnson already has a cast on her left hand to protect a sprained thumb ligament.