KNOXVILLE — Tennessee is dancing.
Just barely, though.
The Volunteers were slotted as one of the last four at-large berths in the NCAA tournament and will play in Dayton on Wednesday against Iowa.
The winner of that game, scheduled to start after 9 p.m. on Wednesday night, will face sixth-seeded Massachusetts in Raleigh on Friday.
It will be Tennessee's 20th all-time NCAA tournament appearance and 12th since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Cuonzo Martin, who will make his NCAA tournament coaching debut, is just the fifth Tennessee coach to get the program to the NCAA tournament.
Tennessee and Iowa have played three times previously, all in preseason tournaments. The Hawkeyes beat the Vols in 1967 and 1977, but Jerry Green's Vols beat Iowa in the last meeting in 2000 at the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii.
The Hawkeyes (20-12) finished 9-9 in the Big 10, but lost eight of their last 12 games and were bounced from the Big 10 tournament in the first round by lowly Northwestern. Since beating Big 10 champion Michigan at home on Feb. 8, Iowa's lone wins were at Penn State and at home against Purdue, two teams near the bottom of the conference.
The Vols, though, won five games in a row before losing to Florida in the SEC tournament on Saturday,
Since they're playing in Dayton in one of the play-in games to the full 64-team NCAA bracket, the Vols were one of the final teams to receive an at-large bid into the field. The other game in Dayton will feature Xavier and North Carolina State, two teams Tennessee played three times this season.
The SEC only got three teams into the NCAA tournament. Florida, which swept the league's regular season and beat Kentucky in the SEC tournament final on Sunday, is the top overall seed, and Kentucky is an 8 seed in the same region as Tennessee. The Wildcats could meet unbeaten Wichita State in the second round.
The Vols felt they were in after a hard-fought loss to the Gators in the SEC semifinals on Saturday, but once other bubble teams Nebraska, BYU and Stanford, in addition to the surprise of N.C. State getting into the field, the nerves certainly increased for Martin and his players.
This is the fourth season the NCAA tournament has featured four play-in games in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday before the rest of the tournament begins. VCU went from "First Four" to the Final Four with an incredible run in 2011, South Florida won twice to advance to the round of 32 in 2012 and La Salle reached the Sweet 16 last season.
More details online and in Monday's Times Free Press.
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 ...