Does SEC tourney matter?

The University of Tennessee basketball team dropped its opening game in the 2006 Southeastern Conference Tournament last March but still managed to acquire a No. 2 seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

That suggests the SEC tourney is relatively unimportant, yet head coach Bruce Pearl begs to differ. He believes the Vols' performance this week at the Georgia Dome will have significant impact on their NCAA Tournament seeding. The higher UT is seeded, of course, the more favorable draw it will get.

"I think where we're seeded will be determined by how we play in the SEC Tournament," he said. "I would say we have a chance to move a seed (up or down) every time we win or don't. Each game could change our seed by one.

"What would a Tennessee team who won the SEC Tournament be seeded? It could be 3 or 4. What would a Tennessee team who doesn't win a game be seeded? It could be 6 or 7."

Pearl believes the reason Tennessee got a 2 seed last year, despite going 0-1 in the conference tourney, was that the Vols won the SEC East regular-season title and went 6-2 in league road games. By comparison, the 2007 team tied for second in the East and went 2-6 in league road games.

"We were champions in the East," Pearl noted, "and we beat everybody (in the division) on the road."

Even if the Vols keep with their long-standing tradition of falling flat in the SEC Tournament, however, they should get a reasonably good seeding for The Big Dance based on a 22-9 overall record compiled against a first-rate schedule. That ought to impress members of the NCAA Selection Committee.

"I think they'll look at the body of the work," Pearl said. "They'll look at the strength of schedule. They'll look at who we chose to play. How many teams do you think really wanted to go to Columbus, Ohio this year and play Ohio State? I don't think there were many takers on that one. That was the defending Big Ten champion who had the No. 1 recruiting class coming in."

Although the Vols lost 68-66 at Ohio State, they posted so-called "quality wins" against several other top-drawer teams. These should score points with members of the selection committee, as well.

"They'll see it with Memphis and Oklahoma State and Texas and Western Kentucky and the like," Pearl said, neglecting to mention wins over ranked SEC programs Florida, Kentucky and (at the time) Alabama and Vanderbilt.

Tennessee's coach also believes the committee will consider that UT went 1-3 while Chris Lofton was sidelined by a sprained ankle and that Tennessee had the SEC's best record (8-2) over the last 10 games of the regular season.

"I think they'll see the way we played with Chris," Pearl said, "and they'll see the way we played down the stretch. "

But, if the coach is right, they'll also see how UT plays in the SEC Tournament before making a final determination.

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