published Monday, March 15th, 2010

Vols fall to mid-level seed in Midwest


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE -- Bobby Maze claims he's never publicly disrespected another basketball player.

Tennessee's senior point guard has wanted to run his mouth several times over the years, but he claims he's never fallen for the temptation.

Why?

"Because a disrespected basketball player will beat you," Maze said.

If that's the case, maybe the 15th-ranked Volunteers should thank the NCAA tournament selection committee for giving them a surprisingly high No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region.

UT (25-8), with an RPI ranking in the teens and wins over top-ranked Kansas and second-ranked Kentucky, thought it deserved and would therefore receive a No. 4 seed.

The Vols thought wrong.

If UT beats No. 11 seed San Diego State (25-8) on Thursday the Vols will probably face No. 3 seed Georgetown on Saturday.

And that's not right, UT's players said.

"I'm disappointed, personally," sophomore guard Scotty Hopson said.

Junior center Brian Williams said he'd come to expect Selection Sunday setbacks.

The Vols thought they were a No. 1 seed two years ago, but they received a No. 2. They thought they'd be a No. 6 seed last year, but they received a No. 9.

"I've been here three years, and this has happened every single year," Williams said. "A 5 would have been a little off, but I could see that. But a 6? Man, that's crazy.

"Actually, it's not just crazy. It's wrong."

But that's what it is, Pearl said several times.

"The seed was a little higher than we expected," Pearl said. "There have been years where it was a little lower than we expected, and the last couple of years it's been a little higher. We weren't in the neighborhood where we thought we'd be. I guess they think we're one of the top 24 teams in the country, and not the top 16 or 20. It's a tough road, but they're all tough. It's not going to be easy, but if it was easy, anybody could do it.

"But you know what? We're happy to be in the tournament again. We're happy to be playing for a national championship again. Let's go get to work and see how far we can go in this thing."

San Diego State finished fourth in the Mountain West Conference regular season standings but won the league's automatic NCAA bid on Saturday by beating UNLV in the conference tournament championship game.

The Aztecs were one of four MWC teams invited to the tournament, joining No. 8 New Mexico, No. 14 BYU and UNLV.

San Diego State has impressed several analysts along the way, including CBS's Seth Davis, who said during the selection show that the Aztecs would beat the Vols.

Pearl said he didn't feel disrespected by the remark.

"(Davis) has probably seen them play, and I tell you, they're a good team," Pearl said. "I know they're a big team, a really good offensive team and a really good rebounding. But we'll spend tonight getting ready for them, and I'll tell you more about them tomorrow.

"But I know they play in a really good league, and I know they're playing really good basketball down the stretch, and it'll be a good matchup."

UT's players were much more miffed by Davis's comments to a nationwide audience of millions.

"Seth Davis has me a little upset right now," Hopson said. "I think he just gave us enough attitude to go out there and take this whole tourney."

Maze said the Vols aim to prove precisely why he's never "talked negatively" about an opponent.

"It's not smart to give people fuel, and (Davis) just gave us that," Maze said. "Clearly, on national television, they just said we were going to be the biggest first-round upset. That comment, I was rather disappointed in that. But you know what? That was just more ammunition and more fuel for us, as far as I'm concerned. I'm fired up, man. We're all even more fired up now. I'm about to go get in some extra shots in the gym right now because of this.

"I've never been more focused, more dedicated and more ready to play than I am right now. Come Thursday, I'll be as ready as I've ever been to play a basketball game."

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

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