“What are we not doing that those leagues are doing?” Those were Tennessee Volunteers‘ head coach Cuonzo Martin’s first words to the press after finding out his team wasn’t going to the NCAA tournament. “There is no way in the world that this league, with this caliber of talent … (is) only getting three teams in the NCAA tournament. Shouldn’t happen,” Martin said in response to the fact that just three teams (two if Ole Miss hadn’t won the SEC championship) from the SEC made the NCAA tournament.
Martin’s bitterness about being left out of the big dance was mocked after the Volunteers bowed out of the NIT in the first round against the Mercer Bears (the team that won the Atlantic Sun Conference that includes 2013 NCAA Cinderella team the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles). However, now that the Final Four has arrived and looking at the teams that are there, it’s baffling why Tennessee didn’t at least get an opportunity to play into the round of 64.
The Volunteers beat the Florida Gators in their lone match-up of the 2012-2013 season. The Gators made the Elite Eight, but beating Florida didn’t seem to mean much for any of the teams in the SEC that defeated them at the end of the year in the eyes of the selection committee – isn’t that right John Calipari? The strongest argument for Martin’s team is the No. 9 seed that is headed to play in the Final Four in Atlanta, the Wichita State Shockers. Tennessee dominated the Shockers 69-60. No player except Carl Hall scored double-digits; the Volunteers held NCAA tournament hero Malcolm Armstead to just eight points. Tennessee was the first team to beat Wichita State this season, which is something that no team in the NCAA tournament has been able to do yet.
If you don’t believe that the Volunteers would have crushed St. Mary’s or Boise State in the first four of the NCAA tournament, you’re not looking at Tennessee’s schedule. They gave up in the NIT loss to Mercer, but the Volunteers didn’t lose to any team over 100 RPI all season except the Georgia Bulldogs – and the Bulldogs had SEC Player of the Year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. All that the NCAA selection committee did was give Tennessee a reason to come back next season with a chip on their shoulder. The Volunteers return NBA prospect Jarnell Stokes, outstanding scorer Jordan McRae, streaky point guard Trae Golden and injured Preseason All-SEC Forward Jeronne Maymon. Coach Martin has already signed a couple of five star recruits for 2013; don’t expect Tennessee to leave their tournament selection up to the NCAA committee again for a long time.