CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State is going to run with the number 12 and what it’s meant to the program this season for as long as possible.
It came as no surprise to the Beavers when they were selected as the 12th seed in the Midwest Region when the NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket was announced Sunday afternoon.
Picked to finish 12th in the Pac-12 by the media that cover the conference, OSU (17-12) will play 5 seed Tennessee (18-8) at 2:30 p.m. (MT) Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
With new shooting shirts for the postseason arriving from Nike before last week’s Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle asked Ryan Lawrence, one of Oregon State’s equipment managers, about putting 12 inside the shirts. Tinkle expected that the number might be hand-written by pen.
“He ironed it on real nice, orange, 12th,” the coach said as he met with the media virtually after Sunday’s selection show. “Jarod Lucas was the first one that noticed it and went nuts, then that was kind of our rally cry down the stretch.”
The Beavers, the fifth seed in Vegas, used that motivation, as they had with the media slight all season, as fuel for a tournament run. They defeated 4 seed UCLA in a quarterfinal, rival top seed Oregon in a semifinal and then 3 seed Colorado in Saturday's championship game to claim the conference's automatic NCAA berth.
OSU flew from Las Vegas on Sunday and arrived in Indianapolis, hub of the NCAA tournament, with just enough time to get to their hotel and watch the selection show from a conference room.
“When they saw that we popped up as the 12 seed, everybody looked like, ‘yep, this is going to mean something, something special,’" said Tinkle, the former Montana player and coach. "We’ll keep milking it. We’ll keep milking it, for sure.”
OSU, not included in any bracketology experts' bracket before beating Colorado, would likely have been on the outside looking in without Saturday's victory. The Volunteers are the 19th overall NCAA tournament seed and the Beavers the 46th.
Four First Four games, play-in contests to fill out the bracket, will be played Thursday with first-round games held Friday and Saturday.
The NCAA announced in January that the entire tournament will be played in Indiana, with a majority of the 67 games taking place in Indianapolis.
Oregon State, which last won an NCAA tournament game in 1982, is playing in its second tournament since 1990. OSU lost a 2016 first-round game to VCU in Oklahoma City.
Oregon State has won three of four previous meetings against Tennessee. The last came in in 1990-91 season, with the Beavers winning 82-66 at home.
Sixth-year head coach Rick Barnes and Tennessee lost 73-68 to Alabama in a Southeastern Conference semifinal Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee. The Volunteers defeated Florida 78-66 in a quarterfinal.
Tennessee was a combined 4-5 against SEC teams named Sunday to the NCAA tournament. The Volunteers were 3-0 in nonconference games against NCAA tournament teams, beating Colorado (56-47), Appalachian State (79-38) and Kansas (80-61) all at home.
The team is led by freshmen guards Jaden Springer (12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists) and Keon Johnson (11.2 points, 3.4 rebounds). Both were named to the all-freshman team.
Junior guard Victor Bailey Jr., who played two seasons at Oregon, averages 11 points a game.
Tinkle said Sunday he didn’t know much about the Volunteers yet but that his staff had started on a game plan. He saw part of Tennessee’s game against Florida and saw that the Vols like to play pressure man-to-man defense and switch screens.
“We saw that with UCLA and with Oregon, so it shouldn’t be anything new. Now they’re going to have some athletes as well,” Tinkle said. “The SEC is a very powerful conference and they’ve got a great coach in coach Barnes and they’re going to be strong and athletic.”
Tinkle said his team’s growth and maturity and overcoming obstacles have led to inclusion in the NCAA tournament.
Before playing last week he urged his players to free their minds and play for each other, telling them it would lead to playing at a level they didn’t think was possible.
Tinkle’s big question Saturday night was whether some of the immaturity and youthful actions that caused the Beavers to stumble earlier in the season would return with the team under the big stage on national television.
“I was really blown away at how they stuck to the plan and they stayed on page with what our plan was to do,” the coach said. “It really told me a lot about our character and really their willingness to put the team in front of anything else to achieve the ultimate goal, which is what you see from day one.”