The Unlikely Underdog: Tennessee Vols leverage an unfortunate role

It's really getting both ridiculous and hilarious. No one can figure out exactly why, but it's fairly well established that Tennessee football and men's basketball teams play better when they're the underdog. We really need to fix that (somebody get Pat Summitt on the line), but for now, it is what it is. The problem with that particular character flaw, of course, is that as you have more success as an underdog, the less likely you are to be one.

So credit the national media for resolving that little dilemma for us and creating an extraordinarily unlikely scenario where Tennessee gets to play the underdog role through the first three games of the NCAA Tournament. The Vols were a 6-seed in the first round against 11-seed San Diego State, but many pundits quickly predicted an upset. Fine, we're the underdog. Bring it.

When UT advanced to the next round, they should have played 3-seed Georgetown, but the Hoyas had been beaten by 14-seed Ohio, which should have made the Vols the heavy favorite. In a way, I guess we were, but Ohio's hot shooting had many believing that they would pedal their glass Nikes at least to the Sweet Sixteen. Okay, fine. The Ohio Bobcats are going to bounce us in the first weekend with a high field goal percentage. Bring it. Again.

Now we get to play Ohio State, which is a 2-seed but which was considered by many to be more of a 1-seed, and not only do the numbers say we shouldn't expect to win, the pundits are either openly dismissive of the Vols or completely forgetting that the Buckeyes actually have to play a game to advance. Perfect. Put all your money and your ever-diminishing reputation on Simon Bar Sinister. Please.

Buckeyes coach Thad Matta was appropriately cautious in being asked to comment about his team's road to the Final Four being easier now that Kansas has been ousted by Northern Iowa, but even he squished it into the tread of his sneakers. His response:

"If you get to that position on Sunday, maybe you allow yourself to say, 'Kansas isn't here,' " he said Wednesday. "But you're still playing a team that beat Kansas, or the team that beat the team that beat Kansas. So they have to be pretty good, too."

Okay, so that statement is qualified by a "If you get to that position on Sunday," but there's a little nugget of disrespect in there we can use to unleash the Underdog Power. Matta said that in the next round they'll play either "a team that beat Kansas," by which he means Northern Iowa, or "the team that beat the team that beat Kansas," by which he means the team that might win over Northern Iowa. Hey, coach, if Kansas is the measuring stick, you might do well to remember that the team you play tomorrow is also "a team that beat Kansas."

Actually, never mind. Forget I said that. We're still just another invisible underdog. Thank you.

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