March Madness is now on us, but that was overshadowed, a bit, by some news coming from Rocky Top.
Former Volunteer coach Bruce Pearl (231-99 in Division I) is now "baaack" in the SEC, as he was named as the new coach for the Auburn Tigers, who fired Tony Barbee after his team was eliminated from the SEC Tournament last week.
He led eight of his 10 Division I teams to the NCAA Tournament, including twice in four seasons at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Tennessee four times in the Sweet 16.
According to the News Sentinel, Pearl was presented a six-year deal worth $2.2 million annually. This includes a $100,000 raise each year, and he will owe Auburn $5 million if he leaves within the next two years.
Pearl will remain under a show-cause penalty from the NCAA which bars him from recruiting until Aug. 23. Auburn has 30 days to accept or contest this ruling. No decision was made by them on this.
Former UT associate head coach Tony Jones and son, Steven, are joining Pearl on the staff at Auburn.
Cuonzo Martin and his 11th seeded Volunteers (22-12) defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes (20-13) 78-65 in overtime in Dayton, OH, Wednesday night to advance from the "First Four" games to earn a berth in the round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament vs. sixth-seeded UMass Friday afternoon in the Midwest region.
Some Vol fans were wanting the third-year coach gone, but Wednesday's win over the Hawkeyes, most likely, saved his job.
Pearl will make life interesting in the SEC for the other 13 teams and his future teams will be threats when post-season rolls around next year. It will be interesting the reception he gets when Auburn comes to Thompson-Boling Arena.
The opening round of the men's tournament began Thursday and Friday, with second round games Saturday and Sunday, all leading up to the final four in Arlington, TX April 5-7.
It was a shame defending champion Louisville received a fourth seed in the Midwest region and has to play 13th seed Manhattan. There are some heavyweights in that region, with the likes of unbeaten Wichita State, Duke, Kentucky and Michigan.
In the west region, No. 1 Arizona has some biggies in No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 3 Creighton and No. 4 San Diego State.
SEC champion Florida is the overall top seed and anchors the South region; however, there, too, are some stout challengers in No. 2 Kansas, No. 3 Syracuse and No. 4 UCLA.
East region No. 1 seed Virginia, which was blown away by Tennessee earlier in the season, might have the easiest route to the final four, as they must contend with No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State and No. 4 Michigan St.
Don't be surprised if there are some upsets by teams seeded in the 10-16 range.
In the south, No. 11 Dayton faces No. 6 Ohio State or No. 12 Stephen F. Austin vs. No. 5 VCU or No. 16 Eastern Kentucky vs. No. 2 Kansas.
In the East. No. 5 Cincinnatti vs. No. 12 Harvard and No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Delaware are potential bracket busters.
Vol fans will now watch their team face sixth seed UMass this afternoon and
then face No. 3 Duke, who will have their hands full with No. 14 Mercer who will be joining the SoCon next season. No. 15 Wofford faces No. 2 Michigan in another potential upset.
Who will be last year's Florida Gulf Coast? Some of the aforementioned teams have the talent to beat a top 4 seed and be the Butlers of the world.
On the women's side, UConn, Notre Dame, Tennessee and South Carolina are the top seeds, with the potential for these Final Four matchups in Nashville — Notre Dame vs. Tennessee and UConn vs. South Carolina.
Notre Dame is the top seed in the South Bend region, along with No. 2 Baylor, No. 3 Kentucky and No. 4 Purdue. I can see some potential bracket busters in these games — No. 6 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Chattanooga and No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast, whose men were last year's "Cinderfellows."
Notre Dame will have home-court advantage should they advance to the region.
In the Louisville region, Tennessee is No. 1, with West Virginia No. 2, Louisville No. 3 and Maryland No. 4. SEC foe LSU is No. 7 and faces No. 10 Georgia Tech.
Should Louisville advance, they could be on the their home-court in the region semi-finals against an LSU or West Virginia, barring any upsets.
UConn is the top seed in the Lincoln region, along with No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Texas A&M and No. 4 Nebraska. Andy Landers and No 8 Georgia could face the UConn in second round, should both win opening games against No. St. Joes and No. 16 Prairie View, respectively.
Should Nebraska advance to the regional, they will have home-court advantage in Lincoln.
Former Chattanooga coach Wes Moore and his North Carolina State team is another team in the region.
In the Stanford region, South Carolina is top seed, with Stanford No. 2, Penn State No. 3 and North Carolina No. 4. No. 11 Florida faces No. 3 Penn State.
No. 8 MTSU faces No. 9 Oregon State with the winner facing the S. Carolina-CS Northridge winner, while No. 13 UT-Martin takes on No. 4 N. Carolina.
Stanford is the third team to have the home-court advantage in the regionals.
Don't be surprised if a couple of "Cinderella" teams send some shock waves in the women's bracket.
(Ed Greif is the Chronicle sports editor and his column appears periodically.)