The NCAA Tournament selection committee showed absolutely no respect for the SEC in general yesterday and certainly none for the Tennessee Volunteers. Despite closing the 2014 season with five wins in six starts, including a tough loss to top-ranked Florida in the SEC Tournament semi-finals, the Vols are forced to win a play-in game with Iowa for the right to be the number 11 seed in the Midwest Regional.
Before the SEC Tournament began, Vols’ Coach Cuonzo Martin was asked how many games he would need to win to be –in- the “Big Dance.” He replied, “I think we’re already in.” No truer words were ever spoken as I believe the committee had their minds made up about some teams weeks ago.
There is no way Tennessee should be in a play-in game. They face Iowa, who finished sixth in the Big Ten and broke even in league play at 9-9. The Vols wound up 21-12 following a good showing in the SEC Tournament, and among those 12 losses are four to Florida and Wichita State, two of the four top seeds. They also have a thirty point win this season, at another top seed, Virginia. Tennessee is a good basketball team; a bit inconsistent, but nevertheless a good team.
SEC runner-up Kentucky also got in on the “no respect” show as the Wildcats were seeded 8th in the Midwest Region. The 24-10 ‘Cats will face Kansas State in their first game and if they win, they have to take on unbeaten and top-seed Wichita State next. The Gators were chosen the number one overall seed for the NCAA Tournament and Florida is the top-seed in the South.
The defending NCAA champion Louisville Cardinals also got no respect. After finishing 29-5 and winning both the American Conference regular season and tournament titles, Coach Rick Pitino’s club is only the 4th seed in the Midwest.
Enough about getting no respect…... that’s something that must be earned over the course of a season and not just in a few weeks. The Vols two losses to Texas A&M as well as a lop-sided loss at Vanderbilt hurt them badly. They have proven over the course of a season that they can be as good as any team in the country or as bad. They had the top-ranked Gators on the ropes for most of their semi-final match-up on Saturday, but faded down the stretch. When crunch time came, they were unable to score any points from the field for more than half of the games’ second half. There is no doubt they play as good defensively as anybody, but when the going gets tough, they can’t seem to find that “go-to” guy to get them points.
Florida has that “go-to” guy. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin hit a huge three-pointer from thirty feet at the halftime buzzer that cut the Vols’ lead to seven. It didn’t appear to be that big at the time, but it was. The Gators came from ten down to win the game, as the Vols went frigid from the field, scoring just 19 points in the second stanza.
I have written this year about Tennessee’s inconsistent play especially at point guard. That is still a need to be addressed, but Coach Martin has very few choices heading into Wednesday night’s play-in game.
The Vols have proven to play their best when they are mad or feeling disrespected. Before they scored a 76-38 win at home over Vandy, Commodores Coach Kevin Stallings was forced to defend Coach Martin from the many people who were passing around petitions to bring back former coach Bruce Pearl. Tennessee woke up and played their best basketball down the stretch. Having to play in a play-in game should really fuel the fire.
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org