The best way not to waste a shot like this in the future is to not need it to make the dance.
So as almost everyone predicted, Tennessee found themselves on the wrong side of the bubble and will miss the NCAA Tournament after a six year run of appearances. In the final analysis the Vols didn't deserve to make the field, as the entire body of work was weighed down by early losses and late season momentum was derailed by the overtime loss in the SEC Tournament.
But in a year that saw the selection committee give eleven at-large bids to mid-major schools, just beating Ole Miss likely would not have been enough. Consider that the lowest RPI to make the field as an at-large belonged to West Virginia at 57; that's ten spots better than Southern Cal's 67 as the last team in from last year and the first team with a <60 RPI to be the last team in (so to speak) since the formula was changed in 2004.
What's more, as the NCAA officially released their seeding list for the first time, we know that the First Four Out included just one major conference team - Miami - and three mid-majors: Oral Roberts, Drexel, and Nevada. The selection committee will always be a moving target, but this year saw a strong emphasis on mid-major teams. The fact that the SEC was the fourth-strongest league in the land according to RPI meant nothing for Mississippi State or Tennessee.
Tennessee's problem in the future shouldn't be strength of schedule, and barring injury won't have to deal with playing half the season without one of their best players again. But as it's been nine years since we were on the bubble at all, it's important to remember an age old lesson: never leave your fate up to the selection committee.
Fortunately, the Vols look to be good enough next season to not have that be a problem.
Cuonzo Martin built a strong foundation in his first season, and now the Vols look forward to returning to the national elite in 2013 and not having to sweat out the first two weeks of March again. Tennessee Basketball will continue moving forward under Martin after a still-successful Year One...and that year isn't over yet, as the program looks to continue to move forward in the NIT.
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