If someone tells you everything is fine with Tennessee basketball and there is nothing to worry about, that person is delusional. If someone acts like Vols’ sky is falling, that person is illogical.
Here are both sides of the argument.
The Case for Tennessee Fans Freaking Out
Tennessee caught a huge break against LSU with the Tigers’ best player, Tremont Waters, being out. The Vols caught another break when LSU’s second best player, Naz Reid, got in early foul trouble and saw a severe decrease in minutes.
Tennessee basically received two gifts from the basketball gods and just let them slip through their hands. If the Vols really were a top five (much less the best) team in the country, they should be able to beat anybody, anywhere, anytime given that situation.
But the Vols couldn’t do it. What more do they need?
Additionally, Tennessee has strayed away from their identity as a team in two major facets.
Number one: Tennessee is taking bad shots. For the majority of the season, Tennessee has been a team that simply does not take ill-advised shots. They’ve always been the team that makes the extra pass and gives up a good look for a great look.
Tennessee has strayed away from its identity as a team. This used to be a team that was terribly hard to defend because they always made the right pass and found open shots.
We’ve already seen quick shots without a pass from Bowden, Bone, and Schofield today.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) February 23, 2019
In the LSU game, we saw Bone, Schofield, and Bowden each catch the ball and take contested shots early in the shot clock without making a single pass. That is not Tennessee basketball.
Number two: This team is not deep. A few weeks ago, I put out an article arguing why Tennessee is the deepest team in the country. At the time, they were.
Since that article, Tennessee’s rotation has essentially moved from eight players to seven (Yves Pons is a non-factor). We’ve also seen a great decrease in production from Jordan Bowden and Kyle Alexander leaving the Vols with only four real scoring threats.
Now the Vols are certainly not the deepest team in the country and may not be the deepest team in the SEC.
This is not the same Tennessee team that beat Gonzaga and won 19 straight. They’ve lost their edge and they have no more energy.
The Case for Tennessee Fans to Relax
A few bad outings in February is not the end of the world for a basketball team. Tennessee has their sights on a National Championship right? So why not compare them to other National Champions?
Here are the records of the past 9 national champions in the month of February:
Villanova – (6-3)
UNC – (5-2)
Duke – (8-0)
UConn – (5-2)
Louisville – (6-1)
Kentucky – (6-0)
UConn – (4-4)
Duke – (8-0)
Moral of the story? All that matters is how you play in March
— Louis Fernandez Jr (@LouisWBIR) February 23, 2019
Obviously, this is not the end of the world.
Some people might argue that other teams have lost in February, but how many champions are getting absolutely blown out (17 points) like Tennessee did against Kentucky? Well, actually… most are.
The 2016- 2017 UNC team lost by 15 to Miami.
The 2015- 2016 Villinova team lost by 23 to Oklahoma.
The 2014- 2015 Duke team lost by 16 to Miami.
The 2013- 2014 UConn team lost by 33 to Louisville.
Do I need to go on or have I made my point? A blowout loss in the regular season is not a nail in the coffin for a college basketball team just like a couple losses in February are not either.
Let’s look at the big picture. Tennessee’s résumé includes wins over Gonzaga and Louisville. Their résumé also shows a 19-game winning streak.
Tennessee also has three understandable losses. Kansas was arguably the best team in the country at the time. One loss occurred in Rupp Arena and the last loss was on the road against the No. 13 team in the country. None of those are inexcusable.
Both arguments have their holes, but both arguments also bring up some valid points. At the end of the day, the direction of Tennessee basketball is still wildly unpredictable. We’ll find out soon enough if it really is time for Tennessee fans to be freaking out.
Cover Image: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports