Mercer got a break.
The Bears were a first-round opponent in the 76th postseason National Invitation Tournament for Baylor, Massachusetts, Kentucky or Iowa, according to most brackets of speculation.
Instead, the Bears will play fairly close to home in their NIT debut when they visit Tennessee on Wednesday.
The tipoff is scheduled 8 p.m. on ESPNU.
Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman had the team over to his house for the selection show Sunday night, and while part of it was anticlimactic, it was still fun.
They were pumped when our name came up, even though you knew it was going to come up, Hoffman said. We hadnt really experienced any of that, just to see your name appear and know that youre in something special and in a great tournament like this.
Mercer is joined by Savannah State as the only Division I mens teams in the state still playing. Savannah State accepted a bid to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, won a year ago by Mercer. Savannah State will visit East Carolina on Tuesday.
The 32-team NIT field has 21 with at least 20 wins, including the 23-11 Bears.
The higher seeds host throughout the tournament, unless there are facility issues and a team cant.
Kentucky was Mercers first-round opponent on one bracket. Kentucky, however, has scheduling issues, with Thursday and Saturday NCAA tournament games at Rupp Arena.
Maybe theyll play here, Hoffman said a few hours before the selections announced. Thatd be awesome.
Hoffman said Mercer put in a bid to host, and, as it turned out, Robert Morris drew the lucky straw and will host top-seeded Kentucky in its 3,056-seat arena -- 144 fewer seats than Mercers Hawkins Arena -- in suburban Pittsburgh.
That would have been unbelievable, Hoffman said afterward, with a hint of disappointment in his voice at the possibility. But anyway.
Another early-evening bracket had Mercer at Massachusetts. The Bears were slotted on some projected NIT brackets in the days leading into Selection Sunday against Iowa, Alabama or Baylor, potentially as a No. 8 seed in one of the four eight-team regions.
And it turned out that Mercer will play against a No. 2 seed and wont have to travel nearly 1,100 miles to Amherst, Mass.
Its a great trip, Hoffman said of playing in Knoxville. Id expect well have some people there.
The Mercer-Tennessee winner faces either BYU or Washington, who play Tuesday night.
The NIT has become almost an extension of the NCAA tournament and is a way for a mid-major to make or enhance a name, especially considering last years power-six conference participants included Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Stanford and Iowa.
This years field includes six teams from the SEC and ACC.
Mid-majors Middle Tennessee State, UMass, Drexel and Nevada all made the Elite Eight of the NIT a year ago.
Tennessee went 11-7 in the SEC, tying Missouri for fifth this season.
The Volunteers beat Mississippi State and lost to Alabama in the conference tournament.
Tennessees RPI and strength of schedule are in the 50s. It went 8-10 against top-100 teams this season.
The Vols and Bears have met three times according to Mercer records and four times according to Tennessee records. Both agree: Mercer leads the series, either 2-1 or 3-1.
The Bears won the first meeting, 24-18 back in February of 1913, and the next two, 28-20 in 1921 and 28-23 in 1924. Tennessee had to wait 69 years to get a win, 67-45 in December of 1993.
I like that, Hoffman said with a laugh. We gotta keep the string going.
Location: Knoxville, Tenn.
Distance from Macon: 290 miles
Undergrad enrollment: 21,100
Arena: Thompson-Boling Center (21,000)