Fun first-round NCAA possibilities

The Tennessee men’s basketball team is all over the place on various NCAA tournament projection boards.

UT (19-14) is a No. 7 seed on some boards, and a No. 11 on others, meaning Sunday’s selection show brings an even wider range of possibilities than previous seasons.

Here are five of the most fun possibilities.

MICHIGAN STATE
Why: Because UT and the Spartans played a one-point game last season with a Final Four spot on the line. What more could you possibly need or want to know?

MISSOURI
Why: Because Missouri plays the way UT used to play — end-to-end in a hurry. Would the Vols be able to avoid taking the bait, or would they try to run and gun and with the Tigers? Bruce Pearl has preached patience with his team the past couple of seasons, but his players signed with UT to play fast. And it’s hard not to play fast against Missouri

UCLA
Why: The program with more national championships that any has resurfaced on the national scene after a disappointing 14-18 season. Ben Howland’s Bruins (and their beautiful uniforms) went 21-8 and 12-4, but the Pac-10 was weak this season, leaving them an intriguing potential matchup for the Vols.

ILLINOIS
Why: Illinois, which has a No. 40 RPI compared to UT’s No. 36, certainly has history with Pearl. UT’s coach turned in Illinois for potential NCAA recruiting violations when he was an Iowa assistant, and the Illini faithful have never forgotten or come close to forgiving. Plus, can you imagine that much orange in one building? Some could go blind.

KANSAS STATE
Why: If UT falls far enough down the NCAA’s big board, it could face a first-round game with the Wildcats. And that would probably be all kinds of fun, because the Vols and Kansas State have been two of the nation’s most consistently inconsistent teams. Drama has been a mainstay for both programs on and off the court, and Pearl and Frank Martin are two of the most entertaining coaches to watch during games.

OTHER FUN POSSIBILITIES

West Virginia: Bruce Pearl versus Bob Huggins — how could that not be fun?

Georgetown: The Vols and Hoyas have played just twice, with Georgetown eliminating UT from the 2003 NIT and the Vols downing the Hoyas in the 2008 Old Spice Classic. A young Cameron Tatum led the Vols to victory that day, and the now-struggling junior could maybe feel some good vibes after seeing those classic Georgetown jerseys on the floor.

Butler: UT took a beating from Butler in a preseason NIT game in the 2006-07 season before getting sweet revenge in the 2008 NCAA tournament. Plus, Butler barely lost the national championship game to Duke last season, and the Vols barely missed the Final Four.

Gonzaga: The Vols and Zags have played three good games in the past four seasons. Neither team is as good as it’s been — the star power isn’t the same, anyway — but a rematch would still be fun.

George Mason: The Patriots had their 16-game winning streak snapped by VCU in a Colonial Athletic Association tournament semifinal game, but that won’t make any major-conference program happier to see them in the tournament.

Florida State: Seminoles star Chris Singleton — who should return from a foot injury and play in the tournament — nearly came to UT, and Vols’ coaches were beyond frustrated when he left them at the alter to sign with Florida State.

Marquette: The teams played an entertaining game in Nashville not long ago, and Marquette head coach Buzz Williams and UT assistant Steve Forbes are good friends.

Contact Wes Rucker at wrucker@247sports.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247

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