ST. LOUIS — Tennessee didn’t have much time to dwell on Sunday afternoon’s 77-72 loss to Kentucky in the SEC title game before turning their focus to this week’s NCAA tournament.
The Vols lingered in the Scottrade Center after the game awaiting the selection show and found out that they’ll be a No. 3 seed in the South Region facing No. 13 seed Wright St. on Thursday afternoon.
That news may not erase the sting of failing to snag the program’s first SEC Tournament title since 1979 but it certainly gives the Vols a chance to swing their attention towards something other than dwelling on today’s loss.
The return to the tournament for the first time in five years is also a tangible comment on the job Rick Barnes has done in reviving a program that was more or less in shambles when he arrived on the scene three years ago.
“I’m really happy for our guys when you think about where we were two years ago. We shared a conference championship and now we’re in the NCAA tournament. You never take it for granted. Hats off to our team. They believed they could do it, they did it and now we’re in the big event. From here you go one game at a time,” Barnes said after the selection show.
This is completely uncharted territory for everyone on the Vols’ roster, but not for their head coach.
This will be Barnes’ 23rd trip to the NCAA Tournament and the fourth different school he’s guided into the field.
There will no doubt be some frustrated fans who were hoping to see the Vols get placed in Nashville, but Barnes wasn’t prone to quibble with his team’s destination on Sunday evening.
“Obviously everybody wants to be as close to home as they can get, no question about that. I don’t know how they put it all together, I just have confidence that everything is on a level playing field,” he said.
“I’ve always had a lot respect for the committee, they’ve got all the numbers and they put it all together. I don’t have a problem with any of it.”
Though the Vols won’t get to be in Nashville for the opening weekend of the tournament they do get to stay in the South Region with the regional final in Atlanta. If the Vols make it into the Sweet 16 that ensure they enjoy ample fan support.
The SEC sent a record eight teams into the field.