“It’s upsetting ... .” forward Jordan McRae said.
Those two words from the the All-SEC First Team member are all that needed to be said about the team's postseason fate.
For the second straight year, the Tennessee Volunteers players watched the selections for the NCAA Tournament only to see themselves be left out of “The Big Dance.”
After the disappointing news of being on the outside looking in, the Vols (20-12) now find themselves as a No. 2 seed in the National Invitation Tournament.
“Everybody here is a ball player so as long as we are in those four lines, we’re going to be ready to go no matter what (tournament) it is,” McRae said.
In last year’s NIT appearance, the Vols drew Middle Tennessee State in the first round, but seemed disinterested in playing after being told they were not NCAA Tournament material.
“I don’t think we played well against MTSU last year,” senior guard Skylar McBee said. “I don’t necessarily believe that it’s because we did not want to play. MTSU was a good team and they played well last year and we didn’t, but we are playing good basketball right now and I look forward to continuing that.”
Even with the bad performance last year, the Vols look set to redeem themselves against their first round opponent, the Mercer Bears (23-11). Senior forward Kenny Hall said that all the men on the team are competitors, and that while it is not the NCAA, it is still a basketball tournament.
“We’re basketball players and this is a basketball game being played and we’re competitors,” Hall said. “We still have to go out there and compete. Then at the same time, we’re still playing in TBA so we still got to protect our home. At the end of the day, it’s just the fact of us coming out here to compete. We still love the game of basketball, we still are going to come out and play with passion and heart.”
Hall also said that, as a senior, it is his job to keep the younger guys motivated and push them to chase this championship.
“I got to stress to these guys that there is still a chance for us to win something,” Hall said. “If it’s not the NCAA, go out with at least being some kind of champion.”
If the Vols advance to the second round, they will play the winner of the Washington-Brigham Young matchup. The final four teams in the tournament will get to play in Madison Square Garden in New York City to decide the champion on April 4.
“We’re looking to prove that we are a very good basketball team,” McBee said. “I think every time we step on the floor we are trying to do that, so we want to go out there and give it our best and try to get to New York.”