There’s a room in Indianapolis, filled with paperwork, computer screens and coffee cups. That’s where Tennessee basketball’s fate rests.
The NCAA tournament selection committee has been at it since early in the week, constructing a bracket that will be dissected by millions of scalpels from Berkley to Boise and Philly to Cali.
In Knoxville, today’s Selection Show (TV: WVLT, 6 p.m.) will be watched with bated breath. A 58-48 loss to Alabama in Friday’s SEC tournament quarterfinals assured that.
As of Saturday afternoon, the Vols’ resume included an RPI of 59 and a strength of schedule of 53, according to realtimerpi.com. Against teams projected to be in the bracket and those joining UT on the bubble, the Vols own a 6-9 record with wins over Massachusetts, Wichita State, Florida, Missouri, Alabama (1-2) and Kentucky (1-1) and losses to Oklahoma State, Georgetown, Virginia, Memphis and Ole Miss (0-2).
Is it enough?
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin has lobbied that it is.
“We beat top-25 teams, four if I’m not mistaken and beat top-50 teams, top-100 teams,” he said Friday. “Our resume stacks up against the best when you’re talking about a bubble team, per se.”
Martin, though, won’t be in the room when the committee pencils in the tournament’s final teams.
The Vols sit in a broad bubble including Oklahoma, California, St. Mary’s, Wichita State, Boise State, Middle Tennessee, Ole Miss, La Salle, Virginia, Maryland, Southern Miss., Kentucky and Massachusetts.
That’s 14 teams jockeying for four or five cherished invitations.
Those left out will trudge into to the National Invitational Tournament.
Therein lies a problem for UT. First- and second-round games in the NCAA women’s tournament are scheduled at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday and Monday of the upcoming week. If the Vols land in the NIT, they will likely receive a generous seed and offered a home game.
The women’s tournament limits that opportunity.
Because the NCAA will take over Thompson-Boling — dressing it up with tournament paraphernalia and scheduling shootarounds and media events — Wednesday would be the only day for the Vols to host a men’s first-round NIT game, according to two UT sources in the program. The sources requested anonymity because no official announcement has been made.
Otherwise, Tennessee might be sent to the road.
The Vols hope it doesn’t come to that. According to Martin, the team will practice at 4 p.m. today at Pratt Pavilion. They will then gather privately to learn their future.
The Decision Makers: The NCAA selection committee is chaired by Mike Bobinski, who is shifting from being athletic director at Xavier to the same role at Georgia Tech, and comprised of Peter Roby (AD at Northeastern), Joe Castiglione (AD at Oklahoma), Ron Wellman (AD at Wake Forest), Scott Barnes (AD at Utah State), Doug Fullerton (Big Sky Conference commissioner), Jamie Zaninovich (West Coast Conference commissioner), Judy MacLeod (Conference-USA associate commissioner), Joe Alleva (AD at LSU) and Mark Hollis (AD at Michigan State).
Experts are Split: As of Saturday afternoon, America’s two most closely followed “bracketologists” disagreed on Tennessee’s destiny.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the inventor of mock bracket madness, slated the Vols as the third team out of the bracket behind Virginia and Maryland. Lunardi’s last for teams in the field are Boise State, Middle Tennessee, Ole Miss and La Salle.
CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm, meanwhile, had the Vols going to a tournament play-in game as one of the final four teams in.
If UT does earn a bid today, it is almost assured to be as a play-in team. The Vols would be a 12 seed and play either Tuesday or Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.
Wrapping Up the SEC: Ole Miss may have cemented its spot in the bracket with a 64-52 win over Vanderbilt in Saturday’s SEC tournament semifinals. The Rebels will face Florida, a 61-51 winner over Alabama on Saturday, in today’s (TV: WATE, 1 p.m.) title game.
Ole Miss (25-8) now owns an RPI of 58 and a strength of schedule of 127. The Rebels remain on the bubble thanks to a non-conference schedule highlighted by a victory against Rutgers.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.