The Tennessee Vols proved during the regular season they’re a championship caliber team.
Programs don’t win 19 games in a row and ascend to No. 1 in the county if they aren’t title contenders.
And watching the Vols lose to Purdue on Thursday night in overtime did nothing to change my view of Tennessee or how good they were this season.
The Vols failed to advance to the Elite 8 because they were missing one thing — luck.
Sure, that probably sounds a bit cheesy. But it’s incredibly true.
Playing in the NCAA Tournament is a lot different than playing in the regular season, or even in a conference tournament. When it’s a win or go home (like really go home) situation, every team leaves it all on the court.
Essentially, every little thing has to go just right for a team to win the NCAA Tournament. Every questionable call or non-call. Every bounce. It all has to go just perfect to win a championship.
Take the North Carolina Tar Heels for example. Growing up in the south, I’ve been around plenty of UNC fans that love to remind folks of the program’s six national championships, five of which have come since 1982.
Three of those championships are the direct result of luck. Without luck, the Tar Heels could easily have three less championships.
In 1982, the Heels were able to secure a victory because of blind luck. Georgetown had a chance to score the game winning basket after Michael Jordan’s go-ahead jumper, but Hoyas guard Fred Brown basically handed the game to UNC by inexplicably tossing the ball to James Worthy.
The Tar Heels’ 1993 championship via blunder is a bit more memorable. Anytime Chris Webber is mentioned, someone in the room will inevitably mention the time he called a timeout in the championship game when Michigan didn’t have any left. Webber’s mistake resulted in a technical foul (the Wolverines had a chance to tie the game after UNC’s missed free throw), which iced the game for the Heels.
In 2005, UNC slipped by Villanova in the Sweet 16 in part due to a horrible travel call.
It absolutely wasn’t a travel, but the bad call clinched the game for UNC and allowed them to continue on their championship path.
On Thursday night in Louisville, the Vols were on the wrong side of luck.
A late foul call on a three-point attempt by Purdue’s Carsen Edwards is what enabled the Boilermakers to tie the game. If the call, which was very questionable, wasn’t made, the Vols likely advance.
This call is a disgrace. pic.twitter.com/DxhUogu7RY
— Andrew Perloff (@andrewperloff) March 29, 2019
There was also a five second violation that could’ve been called right before the foul.
How’s this not a 5 second violation? The cheating ref wasn’t even counting & that wasn’t even close to a foul. #Tennessee #Purdue #MarchMadness @notthefakeSVP #Rigged That dude with the perfect #Bracket is getting screwed. #Vols pic.twitter.com/yWEcRLbJ9x
— Joel Barnes Weather (@JoelBarnes13) March 29, 2019
For what it’s worth, I’m not blaming Tennessee’s loss on the refs. And I’m not trying to discredit three of UNC’s national championships.
I’m simply pointing out that luck has to be on a team’s side if they’re going to win the NCAA Tournament.
And unfortunately for the Volunteers, lady luck was on Purdue’s side on Thursday night.
Hopefully fans can still appreciate what a special season Tennessee had. Even though they came up short of their goal, it was a season that will always be remembered on Rocky Top.
Featured image via Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports