Tennessee in the SEC Tournament
1992-2011 SEC Tournament (12-team era)
Mississippi State 20-17
South Carolina 16-20
Ole Miss 10-20
Mississippi State 3
Title Game Appearances
Mississippi State 5
South Carolina 2
Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee 1 each.
One and Done
Ole Miss 11
Mississippi State 10
South Carolina 10
New Orleans 2
Tampa, Birmingham, Lexington 1 each.
NEW ORLEANS — We gather here in the Big Easy to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the expansion-era SEC basketball tournament — and the end of it.
A year from now the 2013 tournament will convene in Nashville with Missouri and Texas A&M fans wandering into Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. The 2017 event might convene in St. Louis.
Back in 1992, it was South Carolina and Arkansas fans introducing themselves at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
But mostly Arkansas fans. Their considerable presence signaled a new era. The SEC tournament would no longer be Kentucky's private party.
At least not in the stands. On the court, nobody has seriously challenged the Big Blue's dominance.
Well, Florida did have a nice run with that three-peat from 2005-07. The Gators, at 25-17, take runner-up honors in the 12-team era.
But it's a distant runner-up. Kentucky is 44-8, hauling 12 of the 20 titles back to Lexington. From their return from probation in 1992, the Wildcats went 23-1 in the '90s, losing only to Mississippi State in the 1996 title game.
Florida and Mississippi state won three titles apiece. That leaves two unaccounted for. Georgia and Arkansas each won, doing the tireless underdog drill to win four games in four days.
In 2008, Georgia actually won two games in one day. After a tornado damaged the roof of the Georgia Dome on Friday night, the event scrambled into backup digs at Georgia Tech's Alexander Coliseum.
There also was a blizzard in 1993 that turned Lexington into Murmansk. Atlanta hosted 10 times in the 20 years. Six other cities got in on act, among them Memphis, where both Wade Houston and Kevin O'Neill coached their final Tennessee games in The Pyramid.
Many years, hardly anyone noticed the Vols were at the tournament. Their 13-20 record aces out only Auburn and Ole Miss (both 10-20).
Tennessee was still standing on Sunday only once, in 2009 in Tampa, losing to Mississippi State.
At least that's one more title-game appearance than Vanderbilt.
The most vivid Vol moment of the era was an infamous one, the 1992 brawl with LSU in Birmingham in which five players from each team were ejected.
A year later, there was another evening UT would rather forget: being routed 101-40 by Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Thirteen tournament records were set that night, most related in some way to Tennessee's futility.
On the other hand, UT 7-footer Steve Hamer produced arguably the best individual game of any player in the era. At least no one else has had 30 points and 20 rebounds in a game as Hamer did (31 and 21) in an upset of Alabama in 1996.
Hamer is one of but three players bestowed All-Tournament honors despite not playing in the semifinals or finals.
Eleven players have been named to two All-Tournament teams. The only player to win the MVP award twice is Kentucky's Travis Ford in 1993-94.
The most exciting game of the era is, of course, fodder for debate, perhaps over a drink or several at The Old Absinthe House. Overtime has been required 13 times, including twice in the championship game.
For my money, the best 40 minutes was Alabama's 90-89 semifinals win over Arkansas way back in '92. Both teams were stocked with future NBA players but unsung Elliot Washington won it for Bama with 3-pointer.
Others might vote for Kentucky's 95-93 overtime thriller over Arkansas to decide the 1995 title, played before a tournament-record crowd of 30,057 in the Georgia Dome.
Now we turn to the New Orleans Arena, a 18,000-seat newcomer to the event, and a welcome one for those of us who despise Dome basketball.
We've got 11 games over four days to make a few more memories before Mizzou and the Aggies join the party and launch a new era.
How the Vols have fared
1992: W: South Carolina, L: LSU. Comment: Brawl in Birmingham.
1993: W: Auburn, L: Kentucky. Comment: 61-point (101-40) loss to Kentucky is a tournament record margin.
1994: L: Mississippi State. Comment: Lame-duck Wade Houston's final game.
1995: L: Alabama. Comment: 55-43 score typical of Kevin O'Neill era.
1996: W: Alabama, L: Georgia. Comment: Steve Hamer (31 points, 21 rebounds vs. Alabama) makes All-Tournament; no other Vol makes it until 2009.
1997: L: Auburn. Comment: O'Neill bolts to Northwestern shortly thereafter.
1998: W: LSU, L: Arkansas. Comment: Arkansas' 102 points still a tournament record.
1999: L: Mississippi State. Comment: No. 1 seed squandered.
2000: L: South Carolina. Comment: No. 1 seed squandered again.
2001: W: Auburn, L: Ole Miss. Comment: Jerry Green had one game left to coach, NCAA tournament loss to Charlotte.
2002: W: Arkansas, L: Alabama. Comment: Rod Grizzard of Alabama scores 33, including 27 in first-half blitz.
2003: L: Auburn. Comment: Jon Higgins academically ineligible for postseason; Vols left hanging on NCAA bubble.
2004: L: Alabama. Comment: 85-49, ugly.
2005: W: Arkansas, L: Kentucky. Comment: Buzz Peterson fired when he gets back to Knoxville.
2006: L: South Carolina. Comment: Not even Bruce Pearl can break tournament malaise.
2007: L: LSU. Comment: See above.
2008: W: South Carolina, L: Arkansas. Comment: Vols lose to Razorbacks at the buzzer in semifinals.
2009: W: Alabama, W: Auburn, L: Mississippi State. Comment: first title-game appearance since 1992. Bulldogs eke out 64-61 win.
2010: W: LSU, W: Ole Miss, L: Kentucky. Comment: Wildcat fans take over Nashville, enjoy 74-45 romp.
2011: W: Arkansas, L: Florida. Comment: Pearl era on last legs.