For the third consecutive year, the Volunteers were less than thrilled with their seed.
The NCAA tournament seeded Tennessee sixth in the Midwest Region on Sunday even though the Vols were ranked 15th this week and had an RPI of 14. Tennessee (25-8), which received its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament bid, will play No. 11 seed San Diego State (25-8) on Thursday in Providence, R.I.
Vols coach Bruce Pearl was mostly diplomatic in response to the surprising bracket announcement — Tennessee expected a No. 4 or No. 5 seed — but his players were clearly disappointed.
“We weren’t in the neighborhood where we thought we’d be,” Pearl said. “I guess they think we’re one of the Top 24 teams in the country and not the Top 16 or 20.”
Tennessee’s players were more vocal with their displeasure.
“I’ve been here three years and this has happened every single year,” junior center Brian Williams said. “A 5 would have been a little off, but I could see that. But a 6? Man, that’s crazy.”
Senior point guard Bobby Maze thought beating No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Kentucky and winning 25 games against a tough schedule should have carried more weight with the NCAA tournament selection committee.
“This is just ammunition and fuel, as far as I’m concerned,” Maze said. “We’re even more fired up now. I’m about to go get in some extra shots in the gym right now because of this.”
San Diego State finished fourth in the Mountain West Conference regular season standings but secured the league’s automatic NCAA bid on Saturday by beating UNLV 55-45 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 Brigham Young and UNLV.
Tennessee finished third in the Southeastern Conference regular season standings and lost to Kentucky on Saturday in the tournament semifinal.
If Tennessee advances, the Vols likely would meet No. 3 seed Georgetown on Saturday.