Now it gets serious.
After allowing us three days to catch our breath, the men’s NCAA basketball tournament resumes tonight.
It resumes, as is generally the case for the second weekend, without a local rooting interest.
I’m not piling on Tennessee. Out of 347 candidates who toed the starting line in November, a mere 16 rooting interests are left standing.
The Big Dance is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Only six of those 75 tournaments found the Vols still on the dance card at the Sweet 16 round.
So a recap won’t be a long digression.
The 1967 team got there just by showing up, receiving a bye in a 32-team bracket.
Don DeVoe’s 1981 team was the first to win a game to advance to the Sweet 16, but ran into Virginia and Ralph Sampson.
In 2000, the Vols were poised to push into the Elite Eight but discombobulated in the final minutes against North Carolina.
Fast forward to 2007. Bruce Pearl’s Vols had No. 1 seed Ohio State on the ropes in San Antonio but fell at the buzzer, 85-84. A year later, Pearl’s SEC champions were overwhelmed by Louisville.
That leaves 2010 and, at long last, a breakthrough Sweet 16 win over Ohio State in St. Louis.
Thursday is the third anniversary of Tennessee’s postseason high-water mark, a 70-69 loss to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. The Vols came up one tantalizing possession short of the Final Four.
Basketball, fair or not, is judged by the postseason. With that for a yardstick, how should Tennessee’s program be judged?
In the context of the SEC, the Vols are barely middle of the pack.
Kentucky has won eight NCAA titles. Florida has won two and Arkansas one and both the Gators and Razorbacks have been to multiple other Final Fours.
LSU has made three Final Fours. Georgia (1983) and Mississippi State (1996) even crashed the party once.
Stuck in the One Step Short Club with the Vols are Vanderbilt, Auburn, Alabama and Missouri.
Finally, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and South Carolina peaked at the Sweet 16.
But another prism emerged last week when Forbes Magazine, a leading financial journal, released its list of the 20 most valuable college basketball programs.
Tennessee, the only other SEC entry besides Kentucky, checked in at No. 14. Forbes valued the Vols at $15.5 million, showing a profit of $8.8 million in 2011-12.
I won’t burden you with an explanation of the formula. It mainly has to do with selling a lot of tickets in a big arena.
Fourteen of the 20 have national championship trophies. Eight have multiple titles.
Tennessee is one of only two on the list that has never taken a dribble in a Final Four. The other is No. 18 Xavier.
Every school ranked ahead of Tennessee has won at least one title except for No. 12 Texas and No. 13 Minnesota.
Granted, No. 7 Wisconsin’s title came in 1941, an eight-team bracket. The Badgers have been to but one Final Four since.
And No. 19 Kansas State hasn’t made a Final Four since 1964.
Still, at some point in the 75 years, they did in fact show up on the last weekend of the season.
In more recent times so have Virginia Commonwealth, Butler, George Mason, UMass, Memphis, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech.
So you wonder: What did they have that Tennessee, despite its resources, hasn’t?
And you wonder this: If Georgia and Mississippi State can find their way to a Final Four, why hasn’t Tennessee?
Those are good questions. They’ve stood the test of time.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.