One thought crossed Shanna Zolman's mind as she stared in disbelief at the giant projection TV screen in front of her.
"(The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is) trying to do everything in their power to keep Tennessee out of Boston," she said.
The Lady Vols, who won the SEC Women's Tournament after losing their only two point guards, were rewarded last night with a No. 2 seed in the Cleveland Region and one of the most difficult paths to the Final Four in Boston.
Despite playing the toughest schedule in the nation and finishing No. 2 in the RPI, Tennessee (28-4) was denied a No. 1 seed for only the third time in 19 years and placed in the same region as North Carolina, the No. 1 overall seed in the 64-team field.
Tennessee opens in Norfolk, Va., Sunday at 11 a.m. against No. 15 seed Army (20-10).
"It's a slap in the program's face," UT Coach Pat Summitt said. "I guess it's my fault for putting together the toughest schedule in the country year in and year out."
Summitt said it's the most frustrated and baffled she's ever been following the announcement of a tournament bracket.
But, then again, UT also has reason to feel fortunate about their 2 seed. On the flip-side, the University of Tennessee men's program, after finishing 21-7 (4 of those losses having come in its last 7 games), was inexplicably rewarded with a 2 seed in the Washington D.C. regional. Now, I wouldn't say that was absolutely indefensible, but their high RPI ranking managed to buoy them.
Then again, the high RPI ranking of the women's team seems to have made little difference. I understand Summitt's posturing (she's obviously taking it to the press here in an effort to bolster her team's spirits), but c'mon, Pat. A one seed isn't a guaranteed trip to the Final Four.
One thing is virtually certain: the Lady Vols stand a better than even shot of making the Final Four, if not the championship. UT's men's program, on the other hand, has to come out of a lower bracket which includes Michigan State Spartans (former NCAA champs under the leadership of Tom Izzo) and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels (perennial darlings, storied program, defending champions coached by Roy Williams).
In the final analysis? Congratulations to both programs. You can argue either of these rankings on the merits, but either way, seeing both the men's and women's programs at UT at #2 is an unexpected post-season surprise. And it's nothing but good news for UT basketball as a whole.
Let the Madness begin................
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