KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee thought having the top RPI and playing the toughest schedule in the nation would pave an easier road to the Final Four.
But instead of drawing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, as they were hoping, the Vols received a second seed in what many consider the toughest region: the East, led by overall No. 1 North Carolina.
``I think the East is very, very strong,'' Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. ``Carolina has clearly been named the No. 1 seed in the tournament. That already makes it in and of itself the toughest road to the Final Four.''
Tennessee (29-4) has made a lot of history this season. Its 29 wins are the most ever, the team earned its first No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press poll, and captured its first outright Southeastern Conference regular season title since 1967.
Pearl had preached to his team that earning a top seed in the NCAA tournament would greatly improve its chances at a little more history: reaching the Final Four for the first time.
As the fourth-ranked team heading into the SEC tournament, Tennessee knew that it might take winning or at least playing for the championship to solidify a top seed.
But in a tournament disrupted by a tornado, the Vols were upset by Arkansas 92-91 in the semifinals, dropping them one spot in the AP poll and likely off the first line in the NCAA selection committee's bracket.
``Losing to Arkansas and then not getting the No. 1 seed, 18 hours later I can't make that pain go away. The kids are disappointed,'' Pearl said. ``But we will be ready to play on Friday.''
Tennessee will play No. 15 seed American (21-11), the Patriot League champion, in Birmingham, Ala. If the Vols win, they would face either No. 7 seed Butler or No. 10 South Alabama on Sunday.
Pearl said any of the first- and second-round matchups could upset Tennessee. The Patriot League has gone 2-1 in the first round in the last three tournaments, while Butler beat Tennessee last year.
South Alabama, Pearl said, is a team that's ``just stupid-athletic and deep.''
Don't worry about the Vols' attitude about missing out on a top seed, though. They're just ready to play some more.
``It may help a little bit, but at the end of the day, the whole respect thing goes out of the window,'' forward Duke Crews said of the team's motivation as a No. 2 seed. ``It's about basketball right now and who wants it more.''
If the site of the first two games is a factor, Tennessee should feel pretty good. The Vols won two NCAA games in Birmingham in 2000 to make one of their only two trips to the regional semifinals.
NCAA selection committee chair Tom O'Connor, the athletic director at George Mason, told that the site was indeed a factor in the committee's decision to place Tennessee in the East Region, which will hold its semifinals in Charlotte, N.C.
``The first eight teams in the country were really strong teams, and we looked at them as teams that could win the national championship,'' he said. ``We tried to balance the top four lines in each region, and it made geographic sense to have Tennessee in Charlotte.''
If Tennessee reaches the regional semifinals, the team could face a number of tough matchups in a bracket that also includes Louisville and Washington State.
It would only take reaching the regional finals for the Vols to make history.
``We want to go farther than we've gone,'' Pearl said. ``We'd like to make another step.''

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