Last night the UT Basketball Vols lost to Louisville in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The closed out a 30+ win season with a regular season SEC Crown and a 1 week #1 ranking.
Is that satisfying? Not even close.
This group had the teamwork potential and depth to make a deep run in the tournament, but once again proved that Tennessee basketball is ultimately about lack of discipline and schoolyard hoops that they always have been known for.
Multiple turnovers, little focus, bad passes, poor shooting, ticky-tack hand check fouls....I'm highly disappointed and not a little bit upset.
I'm mostly disappointed, really, in our new wunderkind Bruce Pearl. SEC Coach of the Year, Pearl worked magic since the day he stepped onto campus but in the games it counted most he couldn't come up with the words or plan to reign in the Wild Bunch.
From last year's Butler and Ohio State games, to this year's Arkansas and Louisville - the games with the most on the line - we looked helpless, lost, bereft of leadership and a plan. When UT doesn't have a plan, they fall back on the old blaze-it-down-the-floor-and-put-up-something most kids learn on the playground.
True, it looked a couple times during the game we were going to pull it together and wipe off Louisville's lead. Both times we fell apart around the 3-pts down mark and let the Cardinals build it back up to 10 or more. They let their momentarily success get to their heads and lost focus.
So, except for those nice milestones mentioned earlier - 30+ win season, #1 ranking, SEC season championship - we progressed no further than we did last season. Lost early in the SEC Tournament, lost in the NCAA Sweet 16. Normally I'd be happy with even that progress. But not with this team.
We had the best first 10 players I've ever seen on a Tennessee team, and maybe the best in the country. We had the potential for so much more, but failed to take advantage of it.
I think we may have just seen UT's best shot at making the Final Four evaporate. One of the best UT players ever, Chris Lofton, is graduating. As are JuJuan Smith (2nd best player on team) and Jordan Howell. It's even possible, now even more likely after this loss, that Tyler Smith (3rd best player on team) may go pro early. We could be left next year without our 3 best players and an inexperienced freshman class coming in.
You think Florida had trouble this year after losing so many of its talented leaders? Yikes.
How many people said in 1997 after Peyton Manning played his final game as a Volunteer that UT just lost its best chance ever to win a football National Championship? I probably did, as did many, many other Big Orange faithful.
You may remember a motley group of no-name scrubs led by Tee Martin and Al Wilson that went defied the odds, went 11-0 and won the 1998 National Championship. So there's always hope.
You just have to focus.