Vols get a 9 seed

Tennessee got a No. 9 seed and a Friday matchup with Michigan in Charlotte, N.C., when the NCAA Tournament pairings were announced earlier today.

The bid is the sixth in a row for the Vols under Bruce Pearl, a feat unprecedented in program history. The only other coach to lead the Big Orange to five in a row was Don DeVoe, who did so in 1979, '80, '81, '82 and '83.

"I told the guys that this is my seventeenth trip in 19 years," said Pearl, who previously made nine of nine Div. II tourneys at Southern Indiana and two of four Div. 1 tourneys at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "But it still brings me to an emotional feeling when they call your name. Don't take this opportunity for granted.'"

Pearl said he is especially pleased because Tennessee earned bids "six times in a row with six different casts of characters, six different kinds of teams, six different styles of play."

Four of this year's seeds will be determined via so-called "play-in games" on Tuesday and Wednesday, and those four games are being designated "first-round games." Thus, the Vols and Michigan will be meeting in what officially is termed a second-round game.

Tennessee brings a 19-14 record into the tourney but has lost seven of its last 11 games. Michigan, seeded No. 8 in the West Region, brings a 20-13 mark, having won nine of its last 13 games.

Because the Vols posted a 9-9 record against teams who made the NCAA Tournament field, Pearl was not at all surprised by his team's solid seeding.

"I thought we were between an 8 and a 10," the coach said. "I didn't think there was much of a chance we could get to 7."

Ultimately, a No. 2 strength of schedule probably kept Tennessee from being a No. 10 or 11 seed.

"We played 18 games against the NCAA Tournament field - about 55 percent of our schedule - and we played most of those by choice," Pearl said. "And the 9-9 (record) says that we're obviously capable.

"We're not a team that overwhelms people with our style or our personnel or certainly our coaching but we're definitely capable, so we're excited about the opportunity."

Tennessee is among five teams from the SEC East to make the tourney field. Pearl wasn't surprised by that, either.

"I picked five teams to make it from the East and I picked all five," the coach said, permitting himself to gloat a bit. "It just tells you how good the league was. I'm just disappointed that (SEC West champ) Alabama didn't make it."

SEC regular-season champ Florida is the No. 2 seed in the Southeast Region and will face Cal-Santa Barbara Thursday in Tampa. SEC Tournament champ Kentucky is the No. 4 seed in the East and will face Princeton Thursday in Tampa. Vanderbilt is the No. 5 seed in the Southwest Region and will face Richmond Thursday in Denver. Georgia is the No. 10 seed in the East Region and will face Washington Friday in Charlotte.

Tennessee and Michigan have met just nine times. Tennessee holds a 5-4 advantage but the Wolverines won the last meeting, romping 87-52 on Dec. 2, 1985.

Michigan will be making its second trip to the NCAA Tournament in three years under head coach John Beilein (pronounced BEE-line), who is one of only seven men ever to take four programs to The Dance. His previous trips were with Canisius (1996), Richmond (1998), West Virginia (2005 and 2006) and Michigan (2009). No coach has ever taken five programs to the NCAA Tournament.

Pearl has a healthy respect for the opposing coach, calling Beilein "a brilliant tactician. He's a man's man, a coach's coach. He's one of those guys that can beat you with his (players) and with yours."

Should Tennessee defeat Michigan, it will play again Sunday in Charlotte. The opponent is a virtual lock to be Duke, the West Region's No. 1 seed. The Blue Devils face little more than token opposition Friday against No. 16 seed Hampton.

"That goes through your mind a little bit because there aren't many 1 seeds that lose in those (early-round) situations," Pearl said. "But ... later for that. I'm really, really pleased to be in."

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