published Saturday, March 16th, 2013

Loss to Tide leaves Vols in NCAA limbo

  • photo
    Tennessee guard Jordan McRae (52) grabs a rebound Friday against Alabama guard Trevor Releford (12) as Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes (5) looks on during theNCAA basketball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee men's basketball program's trip is close to its destination.

The Volunteers are no longer holding the steering wheel, though.

Fellow national tournament bubble team Alabama knocked Tennessee out of the SEC tournament and handed the Vols' further postseason hopes to the NCAA's selection committee with a 58-48 quarterfinal win Friday afternoon.

All Tennessee can do now is wait and wish until the 68-team tournament field is announced Sunday.

"It'll be tough," Vols point guard Trae Golden said after scoring just two points on 1-of-7 shooting, "but I think we're an NCAA tournament team, so hopefully Sunday we get our names called. It's a tough position, but you can't do nothing but live with it. You put yourself in that position now, so it's just what you've got to live with."

Coach Cuonzo Martin has championed his team's credentials during its late-season surge, and he didn't change his tune after the loss to the Crimson Tide.

"Look at the body of work, the things we've done from the start to the finish of the season," he said in a Bridgestone Arena tunnel after fulfilling his postgame media conference and radio responsibilities. "You win eight out of the last nine games in the SEC, which is a BCS league with great competition. The league, I think up until last Saturday, had nine teams in the top 100 of the RPI.

"The resume is there. The body of work: We went on the road and played games; we won games at home; we won four games on the road down the stretch of a season. We did our job, so we deserve it."

Tennessee (20-12) must hope the committee deems its records against the RPI's top 50 (4-4) and top 100 (9-10) and the solid strength-of-schedule numbers worthy of an at-large bid.

The Vols plan to watch Sunday evening's unveiling of the bracket privately, either at Martin's house or Pratt Pavilion. The wait likely will be excruciating.

"I can't really help but think about it," said guard Josh Richardson, who led the Vols with 16 points. "Everybody's been asking me about it. It's just going to be a waiting game.

"We've just got to sit here and hope that they look at our resume and think that we're a good enough team."

Based on Friday's performance alone, Tennessee is headed to the National Invitation Tournament.

The Vols shot 32 percent, made just five of 23 3-point attempts and missed half of their 14 free throws. After a hot start offensively -- they made six of their first seven shots and scored 10 of their first 14 points in the paint -- the Vols settled for jump shots against the Tide's pressing, swarming defense.

It didn't work.

"It was just one of those games," Golden said, "where everything was looking bad because shots weren't falling."

Added to Golden's shooting struggles, usual leading scorer Jordan McRae had just nine points, missed nine of his 12 shots and played the final nine minutes with four fouls.

"I don't know if [Alabama] necessarily frustrated them," Martin said. "They just didn't make shots or make plays. When you've got a grind-out game ... there's a lot of guys who didn't make a lot of shots or plays.

"That's just two teams that play that style of ball."

The Tide played it better. Levi Randolph scored 15 points, his last basket -- a turnaround fadeaway shot he banked in from the lane -- squelching a Tennessee charge that trimmed a 50-41 deficit to four points. Trevor Releford added 14 points.

Tennessee's locker room after the game certainly fit the bill of a team that knows it very well might have let an NCAA tournament bid slip out of its grasp.

"I told the guys we didn't play well in the basketball game, and it just so happened to be in the SEC tournament," Martin said. "We can't get caught up in the fact of, 'Oh man, we're not going to make the tournament,' and get down about that. Guys' heads are down.

"They're very emotional. When you put your hard hat on and you come up short, it's part of it. I just told the guys we didn't play well, let's learn from it and keep moving."

The direction of the movement is no longer under their control.

"I've stressed a lot to the guys, 'Don't sweat what you can't control,'" center Kenny Hall said. "Right now it's out of our hands. We've done what we can do, and right now it's up to the committee or whoever the people who decide and choose who gets in and gets out.

"All we've got to do is wait and see what's next for us."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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