March 20, 2013
Can Vols get up for NIT?
Tennessee (20-12, 11-7) will face a pair of obstacles tonight in opening round play of the NIT as a No. 2 seed. The first is No. 7 Mercer (23-11), regular season champions of the Atlantic Sun. The second, and maybe bigger challenge, could be finding the intensity to get up for a gritty opponent in the wake of the bitter disappointment that came with not making the NCAA tournament field.
It's a battle that a handful of NIT teams fight every year. How the more talented teams in the field, typically 'big conference' schools that just missed out on a bigger slice of March Madness, deal with the emotional fallout of Selection Sunday generally determines who gets to make a trip to New York City for the final four.
It was obvious to see that the Vols took the NCAA snub hard and didn't try to hide it after the fact. However, they also seem to have their guard up against coming out flat in a spot where doing just that could be hard to avoid.
"It hurts, but we've got more games to play though," Jordan McRae said of finding motivation for tonight's game. "If you're a ball player and you really love the game, no matter what you're playing in or what the tournament is, as long as you have an opponent and referees you have to be ready to play.
"Everybody here is a ball player, so we're going to be ready to go no matter what."
The Vols know from experience that being the 'bigger school' in an NIT match-up is no guarantee of success. That lesson was delivered last year when MTSU ended Tennessee's season in the second round of the tournament.
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