Despite a No. 42 RPI and an excellent strength of schedule, the Vols were among the "last four in" to the 68-team field when the NCAA Selection Committee met on Sunday. As a result, the Big Orange must face Iowa Wednesday at Dayton, Ohio to secure the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region. Tip-off is set for 9:10 p.m. at UD Arena.
The winner between the Vols (21-12) and the Hawkeyes (20-12) will advance to the Round of 64, where they will face sixth-seeded UMass (24-8) Friday in Raleigh, N.C.
Whereas Tennessee has won five of its last six games – the loss coming to top-ranked Florida in Saturday's SEC Tournament semifinals – Iowa is on a decided downward spiral. The Hawkeyes have lost six of their last seven games after a 19-6 start that included an 84-74 upset of Ohio State Jan. 12 in Columbus.
Iowa's slide began Feb. 22, when coach Fran McCaffery's Hawkeyes lost 79-74 at home to Wisconsin. They fell 95-89 Feb. 25 at Minnesota, then bowed 93-86 Feb. 27 at Indiana. After beating Purdue 83-76 on March 2, Iowa closed the regular season with an 86-76 loss at Michigan State on March 6 and a 66-63 home loss to Illinois on March 8. The Hawkeyes' woes continued Thursday night at Indianapolis, when they dropped their Big Ten Conference Tournament opener to Northwestern 67-62.
The Wildcats torched Iowa's defense that evening by shooting 52.3 percent from the field, including 11 of 23 from 3-point range. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes shot just 32.3 percent (20 of 62) from the field and 25 percent (6 of 24) from 3. Roy Devyn Marble, a 6-foot-6 senior guard, had a big game in defeat, hitting 8 of 18 field goals and 8 of 8 foul shots en route to 25 points. Jarrod Uthoff, a 6-foot-9 sophomore transfer from Wisconsin, chipped in 17 points and 9 rebounds off the bench.
Tennessee and Iowa have met just three times, with Iowa holding a 2-1 series lead. The unranked Hawkeyes shocked Ray Mears' fourth-ranked Vols 64-59 on Dec. 27, 1967 in Round 1 of the Los Angeles Classic. Iowa beat Cliff Wettig's unranked Vols 92-86 on Dec. 20, 1977 in Round 1 of the Rebel Roundup in Las Vegas. Tennessee broke through to post its first series victory Dec. 29 of 2000 as Jerry Green's No. 6 Vols dumped the No. 23 Hawkeyes 80-68 in the Rainbow Classic at Honolulu.
For what it's worth, former Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl was an assistant at Iowa from 1986-92.
Two teams Tennessee faced during the regular season also qualified for "last-four-in" status. North Carolina State (21-13) will face Xavier (21-12) Tuesday at Dayton to determine the 12th seed in the Midwest Region.
Tennessee is one of only three SEC teams to make the NCAA field. Florida, 32-2 after winning the league's regular-season and tournament titles, is the No. 1 seed in the South Region and will face No. 16 seed Mount Saint Mary's (16-16) Thursday in Orlando. Kentucky, 24-10 and the SEC Tournament runnerup, is the No. 8 seed in the Midwest and will face No. 9 seed Kansas State (20-12) Friday in St. Louis.
Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin will give his comments on the NCAA bid later this evening, so be sure and check back for an updated version of this story.