When the SEC teamed up with ESPN to put together this year’s Thursday night men’s basketball television schedule, I’m pretty sure they did so without consulting the fine folks who put together pregame analyses on random websites that no one actually reads. Because, if they had, I can assure you that I would have asked for at least another day to prepare this post. This 37 hour turnaround business just doesn’t really work for me.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on.
Fifty-nine days ago, when four members of the Tennessee basketball team unsuccessfully attempted to fight the law down in Knoxville, I remember thinking to myself that I’d be surprised if any of the wrongdoers were out longer than a week, as #1 Kansas was to come Rock Chalking into town for a showdown shortly thereafter. But then something funny happened. The Volunteer coaches and administration drew a line in the sand. A line that resulted in some penalties much harsher than anyone expected. And by now, we all know that said line resulted in Tyler Smith being shown the door faster than Kenny Mayne in Dancing with the Stars and the other three lawbreakers seeing more pine than Smokey the Bear.
And, even still, Tennessee has managed to put together a respectful 10-5 record since that fateful New Year’s drive to the local Shell station, including a very impressive 7-1 mark on their home court. During that time, they’ve looked more like a team than any UT outfit that Bruce Pearl has trotted out since he arrived on Rocky Top five years ago.
Bobby Maze has become a real point guard. Scotty Hopson has realized that he is allowed to pass the ball to his teammates. The Vols have gotten some solid, if not productive play, from walk-ons Skyler McBee, Stephen Pearl, and Josh Bone. And Wayne Chism has continued to wear his headband in a manner than baffles the laws of physics. And, let’s face it, since January 1, they’ve become the first Tennessee team I can remember that, to a casual observer, might actually be worth rooting for.
Alas, in the same manner that their recently departed head football coach so eloquently put it back in November: “At the end of the day, they’re still Tennessee and we’re still Kentucky.” And that, my friends, needs no further analysis.