The Tennessee Volunteers and the Kentucky Wildcats felt snubbed when they were overlooked for a spot in the 2013 NCAA Basketball Tournament. Now they look foolish after first-round losses in the National Invitation Tournament.
On Tuesday Kentucky fell 59-57 to Robert Morris, a team with 24 wins this year but a strength of schedule near 300 and an RPI of 125.
The next day, Tennessee was outscored by eight points by Mercer, another 24-win team with similar credentials (Strength of Schedule: 254, RPI: 113).
Southeastern Conference basketball was undoubtedly down this year as only three teams were selected as NCAA Tournament teams. But teams like Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama worked extremely hard in the second half of conference play to bolster their tournament resumes, only to have the selection committee slam the door in their faces.
Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin was distressed at his press conference after Selection Sunday and felt the SEC (Kentucky, Alabama and his Tennessee team included) was done an injustice.
“I would say a lack of respect more than anything,” Martin said about why Tennessee was overlooked for tournament entry. “When you have a second-place team at this level, it’s almost like a mid-major mentality in this league. When your second-place team doesn’t get in the NCAA tournament—this is a BCS league, it’s one of the best league’s in the country—that just shouldn’t happen.”
When the Volunteers and the Wildcats lost in the first round of the NIT it showed the NCAA selection committee made the right choice.
John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader said Robert Morris Coach Andy Toole was surprised Kentucky’s players didn’t look more imposing during pre-game warm-ups.
Mike Strange of the Knoxville News Sentinel spoke with sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes who told about Mercer’s intensity. “They played the game like it was the end of their lives," said Stokes.
Why didn’t Kentucky seem more imposing? Why weren’t the Tennessee players matching Mercer’s moxie?
Could it be that the NIT was a letdown for both teams and they simply didn’t care enough?
Tennessee won 9 of 10 games down the stretch of the regular season. But a hiccup at Georgia and a 10-point loss to Alabama in the Volunteers’ first SEC Tournament game kept them out of the big dance. There apparently was no more fight left in them.
Kentucky showed fire and determination by taking down the Florida Gators in the final regular season game of the year. But a one-and-done performance in the SEC Tournament led to another one-and-done in the NIT. John Calipari’s usual one-and-done methodology typically offers better results.
It was fairly evident that neither Kentucky nor Tennessee wanted to be playing in the NIT. But losing without much of a fight in the first round is going to leave a scar that should hurt for some time.
Wouldn’t it have been easier to give a flip and win the entire NIT rather than barely showing up? The only way to find that out is to ask Robert Morris, or Mercer.