The Vols tipoff tonight in Nashville in the 16 team Preseason NIT. The event is really headlined by five teams in four regions - the Vols being the draw in Nashville - with the hopes that without any upsets, you'll get a huge NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden next Wednesday-Friday. But the road isn't all clear to NYC for any of the big dogs - #2 North Carolina will probably run into the same Winthrop team that gave the Vols all they wanted in last year's NCAA Tournament, while out west the Adam Morrison-less Gonzaga is in a bracket anyone could win with Baylor and Colorado State. There are two big draws in the midwest bracket, which should provide a Notre Dame vs. Indiana showdown if the Irish can get past Butler tonight. And for the Vols in Nashville, Fordham won't be a pushover, and should UT win tonight they'll get the winner of Belmont and UNC-Wilmington tomorrow night.
Despite the exhibitions and the 30 point win over MTSU, you still have no feel whatsoever for this Tennessee team. The contests with Fordham and Belmont/Wilmington will teach us a few things, but for the Vols to really figure out what they've got, they've got to get to New York. If they can do that, they'll catch the winner of the midwest bracket (probably Notre Dame or Indiana). If you get to NYC you're guaranteed two games, so even if they fall there they'll still play a consolation game. The big prize, and the big target, is of course #2 North Carolina, who on paper is the absolute favorite (the Vols at #24 are the next highest ranked team in the field, though Gonzaga is first on the also receiving votes list). It's important for the Vols to get to the finals just to play the Tar Heels in terms of RPI (which is really weird to be writing about those three letters at a time when we're usually more concerned with the other big three - BCS - around here in mid-November). The prize is out there for the Vols, but stumbling in Nashville over the next two days is also certainly possible. Getting to New York is the goal, and once there Tennessee would be the more talented team against whoever they faced in the semifinals. We'll see how far Bruce Pearl and the boys can take this...the fun starts tonight at 8:00 on ESPNU.
Preseason NIT Bracket