Vols Open NIT at George Mason

Sunday brought good news, bad news and surprising news to the Tennessee Vols who were invited to play in the NIT where they'll go on the road Wednesday to play George Mason.

The George Mason Patriots (21-9) narrowly missed making the NCAA field after a 54-51 setback against Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Conference tournament. The Patriots were 12-1 at home this season while Tennessee was as woeful 1-10 on the road.

Conversely, the Vols were 14-3 at home this season including 7-1 in the SEC, losing only to NCAA No. 1 seed Kentucky in conference play. Naturally, Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson had hoped his team would open at home in the NIT. However a disappointing turnout of 3,011 fans at Thompson-Boling Arena for last year's NIT contest between Tennessee and Georgetown didn't enhance UT's chance of playing at home.

Instead the game will be played at the 10,000-seat Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., where George Mason only lost to Old Dominion, 74-71, this season. Tennessee's only road victory of the 2003-2004 campaign was at UMass.

The Vols aren't alone among SEC invitees playing away from home. LSU must open at Oklahoma and Georgia goes to Iowa State.

The winner of first ever meeting between Tennessee (15-13) and George Mason (21-9) will advance to play the winner of the opening round NIT contest between Austin Peay and Belmont. The winner of that contest will play the winner of a game between Colorado and Oregon which were each awarded first "opening round" byes. Tennessee is one of 16 teams in the 40-team field playing an opening round game in hopes of securing a first-round match.

While UT's NIT prospects aren't particularly bright, it will have an opportunity to prove it is better than the team that was annihilated by Alabama 84-49 in the first round of the SEC Tournament.

Ironically, many of premiere teams in the NIT field are out to prove they don't belong in the tournament, whereas the Volunteers are trying to prove they do.

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