UT LOOKS TO AVOID EARLY EXIT FROM SEC TOURNEY

The Tennessee Volunteers celebrated last Saturday after they closed out Vanderbilt and the Regular Season in front of 22,172 at Thompson-Boling Arena.  It was a great end to a regular season in which the Vols were picked to finish 11th in the SEC.  Wrapping up the number two seed in the SEC Tournament and winning 10 of their last 13 games was huge for this team as they look to continue their push toward an at-large NCAA Tournament berth.

But, we all know how the Vols have fared in the SEC Tournament over the past several years.  More talented teams than this one have headed to Atlanta or Nashville only to be headed back to Knoxville much earlier than expected.

The Bruce Pearl era saw this trend somewhat vanish.  Pearl led the Vols to a SEC Tourney Championship Game appearance against Mississippi State in 2009 and a Semi-final appearance in 2010.  But, before that the Vols have often struggled in this event.  Whether it is the “Curse of the Georgia Dome” or just simply looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament, the Vols have often been seen leaving this tournament with their tails between their legs when they should have been battling for the Conference crown.

1998 was one such team.  After clinching their first ever SEC Eastern Division Title against Kentucky on the last day of the regular season, the Vols preceded to head to Atlanta and lose to Mississippi State 56-62 in the Quarterfinals.  It was the same story in 1999 as the East #1 seed Vols lost to South Carolina in a Friday Quarterfinal 68-75.

Bruce Pearl led the #14 nationally ranked Vols to Nashville in 2006 and lost to South Carolina 71-79.  Déjà vu all over again in 2007 as Pearl’s Vols lost to LSU on Friday in Atlanta 67-76 in overtime.

The oddest early exit was a Semi-Final loss to Arkansas in the 2008 tournament.  This game was supposed to take place at the Georgia Dome, but after a terrible tornado hit the Georgia Dome the night before, the remainder of the tournament was moved to the campus of Georgia Tech.  The #4 ranked Vols took on heavy underdog Arkansas and lost 91-92.

Hopefully this Vols squad will not inherit SEC Tournament traits of previous Vols team and continue their push toward an at-large NCAA Tournament berth.  Another early exit and we could be watching the Vols in the NIT at Thompson-Boling Arena.