The Tennessee Volunteers advanced to their first NCAA men's basketball tournament in the Cuonzo Martin era Sunday and the program's first since 2010-11.
The No. 11-seed Vols will have to earn their way into the tournament field by facing Iowa in Dayton, Ohio in Wednesday's play-in game. The winner will be placed in the Midwest bracket and face 6-seed Massachusetts in Raleigh on Friday.
"I'm just excited for the program," Martin said Sunday night after hearing his team's postseason fate, "the fans that were there through thick and thin and continued to support."
Wednesday's contest between the Vols and the Hawkeyes will tip-off at 9:10 p.m. EST inside UD Arena.
Getting placed in Dayton meant UT was viewed by the NCAA selection committee as one of the last four at-large teams to make the field—somewhat lower than what most national media had predicted leading up to Sunday night.
But Martin found a way to look at the positives of the shorter Saturday-to-Wednesday layoff that mirrors a typical conference season schedule.
"I think it is, because now you're just playing," Martin said of whether the shorter turnaround could help. "I think for most guys, this time of year you don't really want to practice. And for us, it's more of a 30-minute, ball-handling skill work than it's a walkthrough.
"So our guys will probably rather have it this way — just play basketball."
Martin couldn't be blamed for having a bone to pick with the committee, as the Vols' resume is comparable to many bubble teams that avoided Dayton.
But simply getting into the field had the Vols, who watched the program at Martin's house, excited.
Not too pumped up to mess up his living room, or to forget that business still lies ahead.
"Oh, the guys were excited," he said. "They weren't overjoyed. They weren't jumping around and tearing up the furniture or anything. But they were excited about, 'OK, we're in, let's get to rolling. Let's do what we need to do to be successful.'
"But it's business."
Still, the selection committee's refusal to put the Vols into the second round didn't exactly please the third-year coach.
"I thought we'd probably have a better seed than the one we had, yes," Martin said. "Every year, I guess the best way to do it is just to try to win every game you play. Because when you're talking about BPI, you have a 31 BPI, you have a 42 RPI and then you look at some of the other teams, and you ... (laugh) you just gotta keep rolling."
Tennessee found itself on the wrong side of the bubble in each of Martin's first two years at the helm, but broke through this year thanks to non-conference wins over No. 6 Virginia and Xavier and five straight wins to close out the campaign before a close SEC tournament semifinal loss to Florida.
The strength of schedule didn't look to be a concern for the Vols this season, having played three of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament a total of five times. Neither did quality wins.
But after the Vols nearly missed out on the tournament again despite looking to be a lock this time around, Martin was irked after Selection Sunday about the views of non-conference schedules as a whole for the third time in as many seasons at UT.
If his comments are any indication, expect the Vols to think twice in the future when scheduling games like Xavier on the road or N.C. State at home—two teams that cracked the NCAA field.
"Now you gotta regroup when you look at scheduling," Martin said. "So now is it best just to get 14 home wins (in non-conference)? You really gotta look at it, because bottom line — you look at some of these teams, they won a lot of games. You win games and you get ranked in the preseason. It seems like when you get ranked in the preseason, you get in the tournament."
Not so secretly hid inside Martin's hints of dissatisfaction with some of the committee's mindsets, though, was the obvious relief felt for the Vols.
It's not just Martin's first appearance in the Big Dance, but a first for 12 of the 15 players on UT's roster. Jordan McRae and Jeronne Maymon are the only Vols left over from the 2010-11 tournament run that ended practically before it started with a 75-45 drubbing from Michigan. Antonio Barton has come off the bench for Memphis in the NCAAs each of his three seasons there.
So don't expect the Vols, despite having an argument at being somewhat snubbed, to be looking upon their selection unfavorably.
"It's the NCAA tournament," Martin said. "That's the most important thing. Whether it's play-in, play-out, play in New York, California, I mean, you're in. You're excited to be playing.