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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    Tennessee’s men’s basketball program hasn’t had the greatest luck in the NCAA Tournament. But Grant Williams understands that the Big Dance will define him and his team this year.

    The Vols just got beat soundly by Auburn in the SEC Tournament Finals, but before that they had a strong comeback victory over Kentucky in the semifinals of the tournament. Because of that performance and Tennessee’s overall body of work in the regular season, Tennessee earned the third No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament in school history. The Vols will face-off with 15-seed Colgate in the first round, and they could potentially face seven-seed Cincinnati in Columbus, Ohio in the second round.

    Tennessee’s draw isn’t exactly easy, but they do get to play somewhat close to home on Columbus, and if they make it to the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, they’ll be playing in Louisville, Kentucky.

    Two-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and the rest of his teammates are still fueled from the Vols’ second round exit in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Tennessee was a No. 3 seed last year, but they got bounced in their second game of the tournament by Loyola-Chicago. The Ramblers went on to make it to the Final Four, but that didn’t ease the sting for Vol fans or UT’s team.

    This year, Tennessee’s players are happy to make it back to the NCAA Tournament, but they understand better now just how “do or die” the tournament is.

    “It can all be over so soon,” Williams said during a video interview shortly after the Vols found out their seeding in the tournament. “That’s that threat that’s always in the back of your mind, but you also have to have the mentality of, hey, keep winning and keep having fun and you get more time to spend with your brothers every single day.

    “For us, March is going to be a defining moment for us.”

    Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the Vols have only made it as far as the Sweet Sixteen five times, and all five of those instances have come since 2000. Tennessee reached the Sweet Sixteen in 2000, 2007, 2008, and 2014, and they reached the school’s only Elite Eight in 2010.

    Other than those runs, the Vols have struggled to make it past the opening weekend.

    The Vols have only made the NCAA Tournament 14 times since 1985 (counting this season), and they’ve failed to make it past the second round in eight of those instances. In fact, Tennessee has gone one-and-done in the tournament in five of those appearances, and they’ve only won one game three other times.

    Tennessee has failed to win a game in the NCAA Tournament just as many times (5) as they’ve made it to at least the Sweet Sixteen (5) since 1985.

    Last year, the Vols surprised the basketball world by winning a share of the SEC regular season title, making it to the SEC Tournament Finals, and getting a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the season ended on a sour note because of an early exit in the Big Dance.

    This year’s team wasn’t the surprise last year’s squad was, but their success this season makes a deep NCAA Tournament run even more of a priority. Tennessee ascended to No. 1 in the AP Poll for only the second time in school history, and they won a program record 19-straight games during the regular season.

    Despite all that, this year’s Vol squad doesn’t have any SEC titles to show for their efforts. They finished a game short of both a regular season title and a tournament championship.

    Getting to only the second Elite Eight in school history or the first Final Four in program history would alleviate the pain of coming up short in the SEC, and it would give this year’s team the ending many Vol fans think this particular collection of players deserve.

    Grant Williams knows his team will be defined by what they do in the NCAA Tournament. Vol fans are hoping he and his teammates can make some more history by the time April rolls around.

    Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

    This Week in UT Sports History is a new weekly column written by new RTI contributor Lexie Little

    The current No. 8 Tennessee Volunteers (29-5, 15-3) powered past No. 4 Kentucky (27-6, 15-3) for an attempt at revenge against No. 22 Auburn (26-9, 11-7) on Sunday in the 2019 SEC Tournament Championship. However, the Vols dropped the game in Nashville with an 84-64 loss to the Tigers, missing the title a second consecutive year, this time to former head coach Bruce Pearl.

    The bitter defeat stings for Vol faithful poised to play “Rocky Top” on repeat in hope of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, remembering years of victories and losses across sports that founded the fandom.

    Take a look at some of those victories and losses, in “This Week in UT Sports History.”

    March 19, 2012

    Walk-on phenomenon Skylar McBee took two long range shots, both with clear looks, failing to connect in the last seconds of the 2012 National Invitation Tournament’s second round. As Jeronne Maymon said post-game, the Vols “couldn’t put the ball in the hole,” and lost to the Middle Tennessee State 67-64 in Knoxville.

    Maymon, then a junior forward, entered the game after battling a right knee injury that kept him on the bench for the first NIT match-up against Savannah State. He led the team with 17 points and seven rebounds.

    “I felt good. I was making my shots. Down the stretch, none of them were falling,” he said. “There wasn’t any rust or anything.”

    Though rust seemed gone during the game, Maymon’s iron will was no match against too much exertion, the sweat of his brow, and oxygen lost. The following day, he underwent arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus at UT Medical Center.

    Knee problems continued to plague the 6-foot-8 player following his Tennessee career. The Wisconsin native retired from play following stints in the Israeli Basketball Premier League and in Japan in 2015. Maymon underwent multiple knee surgeries, three of which came within one calendar year.

    “I finally came to the realization that I would rather stop playing basketball than go through another surgery and rehab,” Maymon said upon his return. “I don’t want to struggle to walk later in life.”

    The Vols struggled on and off in 2012, finishing the season 19-15 under head coach Cuonzo Martin, who has coached at Missouri since March 2017. Mizzou’s website currently lists Maymon as a graduate assistant working with the team’s forwards.

    March 21, 2009

    As basketball season comes to a close, Tennessee rowers take to the lakes. News currently swirls about former “Full House” and Hallmark star Lori Loughlin’s reported scheme to buy her daughters’ way into the University of Southern California through the rowing team. Now, take a look back at this date in Lady Vols rowing history — one that, like USC, has never included Olivia Jade or Isabella Rose Giannulli.

    The 2009 rowing team opened its spring season with a loss on Saturday, March 21st on Lake Loudoun. Six novice rowers squared off against the “solid” Minnesota Golden Gophers, who at the time, ranked three spots lower than the No. 16 Vols.

    “They executed some great racing, and I think we were a solid competitor for them in the varsity eight and the second eight,” Tennessee head coach Lisa Glenn said. “Minnesota was obviously strong and dominated the overall event.”

    Eight women shipped off in the shell for Tennessee’s varsity race, pulling within one seat of the Gophers with 500 meters left to race. Minnesota finished three seconds before Tennessee, 6:35.00 to 6:38.65, dashing early season hopes without senior and New Zealander Erin-Monique Shelton (now O’Brien) who sat out injured. O’Brien later set a world record for the indoor rowing marathon in 2016.

    Tennessee followed the loss with its first regular season match-up against Alabama in rowing program history seven days later. The Vols earned three victories against the Tide, which rolled through steady rain, on Senior Day, March 28th.

    March 19, 2004

    Chase Headley headed to San Diego from the New York Yankees last year, but in 2004, he made sure runners headed for home in a 9-4 win against Mississippi State to open Southeastern Conference play. Driving in a game-high three runs, Headley contributed to UT’s 13 total hits on the day.

    The Vols tallied their 14th straight win in the match-up, making their record 18-2 to start the season. The 2019 Tennessee Vols fell to 17-4 on the season after being swept by Auburn in their first SEC series of the season, missing that 2004 mark by only a couple games.

    Headley enters the 2019 Major League Baseball season with 130 career home runs and 596 RBIs through 1,436 games and 5,088 at-bats.

    Vol Baseball next faces East Tennessee State University at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday in Johnson City, Tennessee — 15 years to the date from the Headley-led win.

      (Photo via Rich Barnes/USA Today Sports)

      Tennessee earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament for only the third time in school history, and they’ll be matched up with an opponent they haven’t played in nearly 60 years.

      The Vols (29-5, 15-3 SEC) will be taking on 15-seed Colgate (24-10, 13-5 Patriot) on Friday, March 22nd in Columbus, Ohio in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The two teams haven’t played since 1960, and this marks the first time the two schools have played in the NCAA Tournament.

      Here’s a full look at Tennessee’s seeding, region, location, tip-off time, and full NCAA Tournament bracket.

      Now, here are five quick things to know about the Vols’ first round opponent.

      Dangerous from Distance

      After Vol fans just watched Tennessee get blown out by Auburn thanks to a barrage of threes, they probably don’t want to hear that Tennessee’s opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is also good at hitting three-pointers.

      As a team, the Raiders make 38.8 percent of their threes and finished second in the Patriot League in three-point percentage in conference play, connecting on 41.7 percent of their threes against Patriot League opponents. The Raiders are averaging 23.1 three-pointers attempted per game, so they don’t shoot the three as often as Auburn does, but they still shoot it well.

      Colgate has three players who make over 40 percent of their threes. Jack Ferguson (41.5 percent), Will Rayman (43.2 percent), and Rapolas Ivanauskas (43.4 percent) are all very dangerous from distance.

      The Raiders have made at least 10 threes in 15 of the 34 games they played this season. They’re 18-4 when they make at least 36 percent of their three-pointers, and they’re 6-6 when they shoot worse than that from behind the three-point arc.

      Overall, the Raiders shoot 48 percent from the floor.

      Two Conference Players of the Year

      Colgate’s Rapolas Ivanauskas was named the Patriot League Player of the Year, and for good reason.

      The junior forward is a danger all over the court. Not only is he hitting 43.4 percent of his threes, but he’s making 52.3 percent of all his shots and averages 16.4 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. The 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward will draw a lot of defensive attention. He transferred from Northwestern and was eligible to play for the Raiders this past season.

      But he’s not the only exceptional performer on Colgate’s roster.

      Tucker Richardson was named the Patriot League Freshman of the Year, and the versatile guard has been solid for the Raiders this season. The 6-foot-5 guard averages 8.0 points a game, 3.8 assists, and 1.3 steals.

      Colgate’s head coach, Matt Langel, was also named Coach of the Year in the conference. Will Rayman and Jordan Burns were selected to the second team of the all-conference team in the Patriot League as well.

      Weird History

      Tennessee has played Colgate in men’s basketball before, and the Vols have never actually beaten the Raiders.

      Colgate and Tennessee have faced-off twice before on the basketball court, and the Raiders have emerged victorious both times. The Vols lost 87-83 to Colgate in 1955 in Charlotte, and they fell again to the Raiders 76-73 in Pittsburgh in 1960. Both games were on neutral courts in the regular season.

      Not Great vs. Major Conference Schools

      Colgate had a fairly tough non-conference schedule, and they didn’t perform well against the teams they faced from major conferences.

      The Raiders played Syracuse and Pittsburgh from the ACC, Penn State from the Big Ten, and South Florida from the AAC. While the AAC isn’t necessarily considered a major conference in basketball, they do boast schools like Cincinnati, Houston, Wichita State, Memphis, and UConn.

      Against those four teams, Colgate went 0-4 and didn’t really keep it all that close.

      Syracuse beat Colgate by 21 points, Pitt beat the Raiders by 14, Penn State won by 11, and South Florida won by 10 points.

      Colgate also lost to New Jersey Institute of Technology in non-conference play.

      It’s Been a While

      This year marks the first time since 1996 that Colgate has made it into the NCAA Tournament. It’s only the third appearance ever for the Raiders in the Big Dance. They earned bids in back-to-back years in 1995 and 1996, both times as a 16-seed.

      Colgate lost to No. 1 seed Kansas 82-68 in 1995 and fell to No. 1 seed UConn 68-59 in 1996.

      This year is also Colgate’s best season in men’s basketball history, and it’s not even close. The Raiders’ 24 wins this year smashed the school record of 19 wins that they set last season when they went 19-14.

        (Photo via Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics)

        The Vols are going to the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight season. This time, they’ll be a No. 2 seed for only the third time in school history.

        Just hours after Tennessee (29-5, 15-3 SEC) lost to Auburn (26-9, 11-7 SEC) in the SEC Tournament Finals, the Vols found out they had earned a two-seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Vols are in the South region and will face-off with No. 15 seed Colgate (24-10, 13-5 Patriot) in the First Round. The Vols and Raiders will play on Friday, March 22nd in Columbus, Ohio. They will tip off after the Cincinnati-Iowa game that tips off at 12:15 Eastern, so Tennessee and Colgate will likely play around 2:45 Eastern.

        This year marks the first time since 2006-11 that the Vols have gone to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years. It also marks only the third time ever that Tennessee has been a two-seed in the Big Dance. The Vols earned a No. 2 seed in 2006 and 2008 previously.

        The last two times Tennessee has been a two-seed, they’ve failed to make it past the Sweet Sixteen. The Vols lost in the second round to seven-seed Wichita State in 2006, and Tennessee was blown out by three-seed Louisville in 2008 in the Sweet Sixteen.

        Interestingly, Tennessee is 0-2 all-time against Colgate in men’s basketball. The Vols lost 87-83 in 1955 in Charlotte, and they fell again to the Raiders 76-73 in Pittsburgh in 1960.

        The winner of the Tennessee-Colgate game will face the winner of the No. 7 seed Cincinnati and No. 10 seed Iowa game.

        In the Vols’ region, Virginia earned the No. 1 seed. They were one of three ACC schools to earn a one-seed, with Duke earning the No. 1 overall seed and North Carolina getting the one-seed in the Midwest. Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed in the West.

        Purdue is the three-seed, and Kansas State is the four-seed in the South region.

        Auburn, the team that beat the Vols for the SEC Tournament title, earned a No. 5 seed in the Midwest region. They’ll take on 12-seed New Mexico State in Salt Lake City, Utah. Kentucky is also a two-seed like the Vols, and they’ll face Abilene Christian in the Midwest region in Jacksonville, Florida.

        All in all, seven SEC teams earned bids to the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee and Kentucky are the top two seeds from the conference, and LSU earned a No. 3 seed. Auburn and Mississippi State are No. 5 seeds, Ole Miss is a No. 8 seed, and Florida earned a No. 10 seed. Ole Miss is the eight-seed in Tennessee’s region.

        The only other in-state school aside from the Vols to earn a bid was Belmont. They’re in the play-in game for the 11-seed in the East region. They’ll take on Temple on Tuesday, March 19th.

        Tennessee ended up playing nine teams that made it into the NCAA Tournament this year. The Vols played the aforementioned six SEC teams that also made it into the tournament, and they also faced one-seed Gonzaga, four-seed Kansas, and seven-seed Louisville.

        Here’s a look at the full bracket for the 2019 NCAA Tournament:

          (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

          Tennessee was a win away from their first SEC Tournament championship in 40 years. But just like the last few times they’ve made it to the SEC Tournament Finals, the Vols couldn’t find a way to get a victory.

          No. 3 seed Tennessee (29-5, 15-3 SEC) fell to No. 5 seed Auburn (26-9, 11-7 SEC) by a score of 84-64 in the finals of the SEC Tournament. The Tigers earned their first conference tournament title since 1985, and they beat the Vols for the second time in eight days. The Vols lost to the Tigers 84-80 down in Auburn, Alabama last Saturday in the regular season finale.

          The Tigers have now won three-straight games against Tennessee, and Bruce Pearl is now 4-4 against his old school.

          The game started well for the Vols, as they jumped out to a 10-5 lead then had a 17-13 lead and had Auburn’s best player, Jared Harper, in foul trouble.

          Then the wheels just completed fell off the cart.

          Tennessee didn’t hit a field goal for over six minutes of game time, and they either turned it over or had an offensive foul called on them on about six or seven-straight possessions. During that stretch, Auburn went on an 18-1 run with Tennessee’s only points coming on a made Admiral Schofield free throw.

          The Vols held an 18-15 lead when Schofield made that free throw. After Auburn’s run, the Vols trailed 31-18 before they made their next field goal.

          Jordan Bowden ended up hitting a layup as the buzzer sounded before halftime, and that cut Auburn’s lead to single digits. But the Tigers still held the lead at the half, 32-23.

          The second half saw Lamonte Turner hit a tough shot in the lane to cut the lead to just seven, but that’s where the good news really stopped for the Vols.

          Auburn came out on fire from three to start the final half of play, nailing three of their first four shots from distance. The Tigers ended up leading by as much as 22 in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

          From there, the blowout was clinched.

          Bryce Brown and Chuma Okeke combined for 37 points for Auburn, and Okeke had a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Brown was 5-of-10 from three, and Okeke was 5-of-9 from distance.

          The Tigers simply out-hustled and out-gunned the Vols in the second half, and Tennessee could never recover from the avalanche of points and their own turnovers.

          Here are our five biggest observations from the Vols’ ugly loss to Auburn in the SEC Tournament Finals.

          Turnover Party

          The last time these two teams played, Auburn easily won the turnover battle. Tennessee turned it over 13 times compared to just five by the Tigers.

          On Sunday, it was more of the same.

          Tennessee committed a whopping 12 turnovers in the first half of play, and they ended up giving the ball away another a total of 17 times in the game. Auburn, meanwhile, turned it over just three times in the first half and only seven times for the entire game.

          Auburn totaled 14 steals in the game. That’s the most the Vols have allowed the ball to be stolen against them all season. The previous high was 13 against Eastern Kentucky of all teams.

          In two games against Tennessee this season, Auburn has stolen the ball a total of 25 times.

          Three After Three

          Auburn was averaging nearly 33 three-point attempts a game over their last four games heading into Sunday’s match-up. They hit that total with about eight minutes left to play in the game against the Vols in the SEC Tournament Finals.

          The Tigers attempted 40 threes against the Vols, and they drained a large portion of them. Auburn hit 15 of those shots from distance, and those three-pointers accounted for 53.6 percent of their total points. Almost two-thirds of their overall shot attempts (62.5 percent) came from three.

          Tennessee didn’t attempt nearly as many three-pointers, but they were fairly effective when they did. The Vols made eight of their 15 threes, including five of their nine shots from deep in the second half.

          Hitting threes wasn’t Tennessee’s problem on Sunday. It was everything else.

          One Man Show

          There was only one player on Tennessee’s team that was capable of making shots on Sunday. Or so it seemed.

          Lamonte Turner broke out of his funk against the Tigers and scored 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting. He made four of his six three-pointers, marking the first time since the Vols took on Vanderbilt on February 19th that he made multiple threes in a game. He was also perfect from the free throw line, hitting all six of his attempts there.

          Jordan Bone was decent from the field, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting. But he had just two assists and turned it over three times. Grant Williams was limited in a big way despite Auburn not having the strongest post presence. He only totaled 13 points and 8 rebounds. Admiral Schofield was bottled up all game and finished with as many fouls (4) as he had points. Jordan Bowden had 10 points off the bench and made both of his three-pointers.

          The rest of the five players who appeared in the game for Tennessee combined for two points and didn’t make a field goal on four attempts.

          Too Tired?

          Auburn played their fourth game in four days on Sunday, but they looked plenty energetic for most of the game. The Vols were playing their third game in a 40-hour stretch, and it looked like it got to them.

          Fatigue isn’t really an excuse for Tennessee since Auburn was also probably plenty tired. But the Vols definitely let it get to them more than the Tigers did.

          Tennessee totaled 17 turnovers and were beaten soundly in the rebounding battle in the second half. The Vols out-rebounded Auburn 26 to 19 in the first half, but the Tigers grabbed a huge edge on the boards in the second half, pulling down 20 rebounds compared to a measly seven by UT. The Vols grabbed just one offensive rebound in the final half of play, while Auburn snagged nine.

          All that goes back to effort, and the Vols were clearly not giving a lot of that on Sunday.

          40 Years and Counting 

          For the second-straight year, Tennessee had a chance to end their SEC Tournament title drought. And for the second-straight year, they failed to do so.

          The Vols have now gone four decades without winning the SEC Tournament. The last time Tennessee did so was all the way back in 1979, the first year the tournament was brought back after a 26-year hiatus from 1952-78. Since then, the Vols have only made it to the finals of the tournament four other times, and they’ve lost all four times.

          This year marked the first time since 1936 and 1937 that Tennessee had made it to the finals in back-to-back years. But Tennessee couldn’t capitalize on either opportunity, and now their fruitless streak will continue.

            (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

            The RTI team makes their picks for the Vols’ match-up with Auburn in the SEC Tournament Finals on Sunday afternoon. Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee share their predictions for the Vols’ title bout with the Tigers.

            Nathanael’s Pick

            When the Vols have had to make adjustments against a team they played not too long ago under Rick Barnes, they’ve generally succeeded. I think the same is going to happen on Sunday.

            Tennessee and Auburn just played a week ago, and the Tigers spoiled the Vols’ chances of winning a share of the SEC regular season title. This time, Bruce Pearl’s Tigers will be looking to keep the Vols away from another potential conference title.

            In the last match-up, Tennessee got away from their style of play in the second half and jacked up a bunch of threes. They attempted 28 three-pointers, one off their season-high. That’s not UT’s brand of basketball, but it is Auburn’s, and that’s why the Tigers won 84-80 on their home court.

            Auburn will be playing their fourth game in four days, but Tennessee will be playing their third game in 40 hours. I don’t know if either team will have an advantage over the other when it comes to fatigue.

            If Tennessee runs their offense through Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bone like they did against Kentucky on Saturday, they should be able to win. Auburn doesn’t have the defensive match-ups to stop UT’s dynamic trio if all three are focal points of the offense. Auburn has been impressive in the SEC Tournament, but let’s be honest: They haven’t faced a team who can do what the Vols can offensively in this tournament, and the Tigers just aren’t the same team on the road/on a neutral court as they are at home.

            For the Vols, defense will be the key in this game, not offense. Tennessee will be able to find points, that I’m sure of. But it will be on UT’s perimeter defenders to stop Auburn’s barrage of threes, and that was an issue the last time these two teams played.

            Whichever team plays their style more consistently will be the team that wins. And I think it’ll be the Vols.

            Pick: Tennessee, 79-73

            MVP: Grant Williams, Tennessee forward

            Based on how he’s done in tournament play over the last two years, I’m very tempted to pick Admiral Schofield as my MVP for the game. But Williams was a beast against Auburn a week ago, and the Vols needed to turn to him earlier than they did. I think he’ll be able to have another great game against the Tigers as long as UT makes him a priority in the paint. They should if they want to win.

            Ben’s Pick

            I didn’t feel good about last Saturday’s match-up with Auburn. As Tennessee and the Tigers prepare to play for an SEC title on Sunday afternoon, the feeling has returned.

            Tennessee’s biggest weakness is its lack of ability to defend the perimeter at a championship-level. Auburn has made 381 three-point shots this season, the most in the country. The Tigers are making just over 11.2 threes per game while Tennessee only makes 6.8 threes per game. UT wants to run their offense through Grant Williams, and Auburn wants to take around 30 three-pointers. Whoever wins the game will have had success in getting the other team out of their comfort zone.

            A week ago, when Tennessee fell to Auburn, it was because Bruce Pearl’s team was able to get the Vols to play a different style of basketball. Because of that, I believe the Vols will be locked in. Tennessee has been really good in games over the past two instances when playing a team in which they lost to earlier in the year. That’s because the players and coaches do a great job of realizing what they didn’t do well the first go-round, and then they make the proper adjustments. Just look at how Tennessee performed in Rupp Arena a month ago, and then how the Vols whooped the Cats in Knoxville, and then in Nashville on Saturday.

            As was the case against Kentucky, Jordan Bowden, Jordan Bone, and Lamonte Turner’s defense – not offense – will determine if Tennessee wins the SEC Tournament for the first time since 1979. Auburn can be a lackluster defensive team at times, so the points will come. But can Bowden, Bone, and Turner limit Auburn’s dynamic guard duo of Bryce Brown and Jared Harper? If so, Tennessee walks away SEC Champs.

            Pick: Tennessee, 85-83

            MVP: Grant Williams, Tennessee forward

            The back-to-back SEC Player of the Year is going to earn his money on Sunday afternoon against Auburn. Tennessee didn’t go to Grant Williams early enough vs. Auburn last Saturday, but on Sunday, I expect him to be the focal point of the offense. The Tigers didn’t have much of an answer for Williams when the Vols made an effort to get him the ball. Tennessee will ride the back of the two-time SEC Player of the Year to an SEC title.