There were plenty of opportunities for this year’s Tennessee basketball team to take care of business, so that living ‘on the bubble’ would have been a laughable concept reserved for lesser teams. Three losses to Alabama and two to an average Georgia team, to name but a few examples.
In the end, the Vols did win nine of their final eleven games to even get back into the conversation at all, when they could have faded into oblivion. But it wasn’t quite enough.
UT’s March Madness hopes began to fade with every tick of the clock in Nashville on Sunday, as Ole Miss secured an automatic tournament bid with an upset win over Florida. The tournament selection committee was apparently intent on choosing no more than three SEC teams, and with Florida and Missouri securing bids based on performance, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, and Ole Miss were left to scramble for that third and final spot. The Rebels upset over the Gators in the SEC Championship sent the other three limping off to accept an NIT bid.
The Vols were awarded a #2 seed in the National Invitational Tournament and will host Mercer on Wednesday at 8pm. The winner will face the winner of Tuesday’s matchup between BYU and Washington.
Mercer (23-11) lost 88-75 to Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun Championship. Like the Vols, Mercer lost road games at Georgia and Alabama this season. The Bears’ only significant victory of the season was a road win at Florida State, who is also in the NIT. Mercer is led by 6-foot-3 senior guard Travis Smith, who averages 13.5 ppg. 6-4 junior guard Langston Hall is the only other player who averages double figures (11.0 ppg).
Tickets for Wednesday’s game are only $10 and seating will be general admission.