UT tanks it at tourney time

Given Tennessee's long-standing futility, you almost wonder why the Vols even bother showing up for the SEC Basketball Tournament.

Ironically, when the SEC returned to a tourney format in 1979, UT was the first champion. Don DeVoe's initial Vol squad got a first-round bye, then won two games to prevail in the 10-team field. He went 7-10 in tourney games thereafter, however, finishing with a 9-10 record in 11 SEC Tournament appearances.

His successor, Wade Houston, went 5-5 in SEC Tourney play. Incredibly, that's the best mark by a Vol skipper since the league tournament was renewed 25 years ago. Kevin O'Neill went 1-3 and Jerry Green 2-4. Current head man Buzz Peterson stands 1-2.

If you think those numbers sound bad, brace yourself. It gets worse:

• Eleven of the 12 SEC schools have made the tourney semifinals at least once during the 12 years since divisional play was instituted. Tennessee is the one school that has NOT.

• UT is the only school to be seeded sixth (last) in its division six times during the past dozen years.

• Tennessee and Vanderbilt are the two losingest teams during that stretch, notching just six tourney victories each.

• UT has played 18 games since the tourney was reinstituted, going 6-12 for a dismal .333 winning percentage.

Peterson says Tennessee's futility in past SEC Tourneys has no bearing on the 2004 Tournament that begins Thursday in Atlanta. Rather than focus on UT's ugly past, he prefers to zero in on what he believes to be a golden opportunity.

''Today's the start of a new season to me,'' Peterson said. ''This is the most important part -- the third season -- when we've really got to be clicking on all cylinders.''

Of course, if the Vols are to make any noise in this year's tourney, they must first overcome a talented Alabama team ... along with 25 years of humiliating history.

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