The Tennessee Volunteers, fresh off a tournament snub, will take on the Mercer Bears in the first round of the NIT on Wednesday night.
The 2nd seeded Volunteers finished the season 20-12, with quality wins over Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Wichita State.
On Monday head coach Cuonzo Martin expressed his frustration with the the selection committee’s decision to not include the Vols in the NCAA tournament:
It’s unfortunate. I would say a lack of respect more than anything. When you have a second-place team at this level, it’s almost like a mid-major mentality in this league. When your second-place team doesn’t get in the NCAA tournament, this is a BCS league, it’s one of the best league’s in the country, that just shouldn’t happen.
Martin’s frustration is understandable. The SEC earned only three tournament bids. The Atlantic 10 and Mountain West, both considerd “mid-major conferences”, earned five bids apiece. The ACC, considered the premiere basketball conference by many, only received four bids to the tournament. Several college basketball analysts, including Jay Bilas, have pondered that the committee put more mid-majors in by preference, despite a weaker tournament resume.
The Vols had a strong finish to their season, going 9-2 in their final 11 games. Mike Bobinski, Xavier athletic director and selection committee chairman, however said the Vols didn’t beat many powerful teams down that stretch, a sentiment that Cuonzo Martin did not agree with.
During those final 11 games the Vols won four conference road games, including a win in a tough environment at Texas A&M. The Vols also beat a ranked Kentucky team by 30, beat Florida (a three-seed in the tournament) and won against a tough Missouri team.
Cuonzo Martin and the Vols will have to find a way to put the tournament snub behind them, at least for the next few games.
The Mercer Bears are where the Vols will have to put their focus. Defeating the Bears won’t be an easy task either — Mercer won on the road this year against Florida State and Alabama.
Mercer finished the season with a 23-11 record, losing to Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic 10 championship. The 7th seeded Bears are led in scoring by Travis Smith, who averages 13.1 points a game.
Tennessee is coming off one of their worst performances in the last month. In the loss against, Alabama in the SEC tournament, the Vols shot only 32.1% from the field.
Guard Jordan McRae, who had been on a hot streak, scored only 9 points against the Crimson Tide on 3-of-13 shooting. Fellow guard Trae Golden didn’t have his best performance either, scoring only 2 points in 38 minutes of action.
The Volunteers will have to play at a higher level then they did against Alabama, or they won’t be in the NIT for long. Tennessee will absolutely need an effective Trae Golden, when Golden doesn’t play well, neither do the Vols.
If the Vols are able to make it past Mercer, they would then face BYU, who beat Washington on Tuesday night.
Tennessee and Mercer will tip off at 8:00 pm est on Wednesday night. The game can be seen on ESPNU