First off, I'd like to give a big shout-out to the Lady Vols, who -- lost in all the justified hooplah -- pounded Mississippi State 75-48 on the road before the men's game got underway. Glory Johnson scored a double-double before halftime and finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds, and the Bjorkbomb connected on 4-9 from ICBM range, as usual, to finish with 16 as well. Strickland had a great stat line with 9 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 Turnovers. ESPN Boxscore, Govols Recap, UTSports.com Highlights.
However, we all know why you're reading this. Mississippi State is not the #1 team in the nation, the Lady Vols were not underdogs of an epic scale, and Pat Summit has already established her place as the greatest coach alive. Bruce Pearl still has work to do. I'll consider Sunday a "step in the right direction" to say the least. Rather than post a bajillion fan-shots, I figured I'd try to post one page with all the links to stories about this game that I could find.
Bruce ball is back.
"It was about the effort, the courage and the teamwork,’’ said Vols coach Bruce Pearl, 2-2 against No. 1-ranked teams in his 4½-year tenure in Knoxville. "It’s pretty amazing what chemistry can do, when guys put their minds to something, and they know their backs are up against the wall.’’
A week ago, did anyone out there really believe that Sunday would end with Tennessee basketball players standing on chairs at Thompson-Boling Arena waving to a jubilant crowd of 21,936?
Or that a beaming Bruce Pearl would be helping the flag guy wave the giant orange flag?
What a day in Tennessee men's basketball history.
All the more so because what a week it has been in Tennessee basketball history.
(Video Courtesy of UTSports.com)
Hardly anybody thought this new-look Tennessee team could hang with Kansas, which has been ranked No. 1 all season. Except the players still wearing orange.
"The [suspensions] forced us to be together," sophomore swingman Renaldo Woolridge said. "That first practice when we had few guys in there seemed kind of funny. But the next practice seemed more natural, and now we just click. We bought into the family concept."
What it means: There will be a new No. 1 come Monday, as Kansas suffered its first defeat after a 14-0 start. The Jayhawks have some re-evaluating to do going into Big 12 play after a tough two-game stretch that included a close shave at home against Cornell. Tennessee proved it could beat a big-time opponent without its missing four contributors. Time will tell if the Volunteers can continue this level of play with a depleted roster.
The first unofficial visit was to Chattanooga, Tenn., a Southern Conference school, and that made sense for Skylar McBee because he was, by most accounts, a Southern-Conference type of prospect. He could shoot it, sure. But he was kind of small, and not all that athletic. So the first visit was to Chattanooga, and the first question came from Chattanooga coach John Shulman.
"He said, 'Skylar, if you could pick any school, where would you go?' " Skylar's mother, Sue McBee, recalled Sunday night, her smile still wide from an afternoon of basketball she never could've imagined where No. 16 Tennessee upset top-ranked Kansas 76-68 in Knoxville. "And I still remember Skylar looking at him and saying, 'Coach, if I could go anywhere I'd go to the University of Tennessee.' "
Tennessee’s maligned point guard, Bobby Maze, was the top point guard on the floor and not Kansas’ Sherron Collins, who is expected to be a first-round pick in June’s NBA Draft.
Scotty Hopson was the most talented and productive wing player and not Xavier Henry, Kansas’ hyped freshman who was invisible for the majority of the game.
3SiB: Walking Tall.
Every walk-on imagines himself hitting the game winning shot in a big game.
Unfortunately, for most walk-ons, those shots never occur. The life of a walk-on basketball player at a major Division I school is not one filled with glory and memorable moments. The only glory they get comes on the practice court where they run the opposition’s plays day in and day out for the first teamers to see.
That is unless you’re a walk-on for the Tennessee Volunteers.
These three guys wear orange jerseys because they want to. All three spurned scholarship offers elsewhere so that they could put on a jersey that has "Tennessee" across the chest. They aren’t going to stuff the stat sheet. They certainly won’t go to the NBA. And when Tennessee’s highly touted recruiting class arrives on campus next year, these guys will most likey go back to being nothing more than practice dummies. But until then, we will watch them contribute and be grateful that they are on our team.
I’ll bet Kansas wishes they weren’t.
As the game unfolded, I found myself swelling with pride. I’m not embarrassed to admit I even teared up as the team stood up and high-fived fans after the resounding victory. I couldn’t help it. While it’s always great to be a Tennessee Vol, man, it just hasn’t been easy lately.
Just what did Bruce Pearl tell/feed/frighten his team with that has them playing more fluid and cooperatively (33 assists in the last two games!) since moving on without 32 percent of their offense? Is it simply a case of weeding out the rift-raft? Heck, was Bruce Peal inept at determining the best rotation for his team before the aforementioned suspensions? It's a crazy question to make, but worth suggesting.
So with the result unexpected, and given that it followed the first home playoff loss of Tom Brady's NFL career, does this pattern of aberrations mean that tomorrow morning the lady at Dunkin Donuts will show a high level of customer service and apply cream cheese onto my bagel?
Times Free Press: McBee's shot lifts Vols to a stunning victory.
"I had a hard time sleeping last night," McBee said afterward.
But 39 seconds from the horn, the Vols clinging to a 3-point lead, McBee held the ball. Over his shoulder he spied the shot clock. It was down to three ticks. In his face was Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor, arguably the stickiest Jayhawk defender.
McBee decided a desperate time called for a desperate measure. He ball-faked Taylor, drifted to his left and fired away, 21,936 Big Orange loyalists rising to their feet as one to follow the shot's trajectory. The ball swished cleanly through. The Boling Alley shook with joy and relief. Kansas was undefeated no more, the Vols winning 76-68.
The Tennessean: Even by Pearl's standards, this was a pretty good win.
Maybe we should've seen it coming.
Upon further review, this was right up Bruce Pearl's comfort zone. He specializes in lost causes. In five seasons, he has resurrected Tennessee basketball by sheer will and by getting his team to overachieve.
2. Can the Vols sustain this level of post-scandal energy? In the short-term, teams tend to rally around the loss of a key player, and Tennessee certainly did that on Sunday, receiving a number of huge, unexpected performances from bit players. Senior point guard Bobby Maze had by far his best game of the season, dishing out eight assists against just two turnovers, and scoring 16 points. Sophomore forward Renaldo Woolridge, who'd previously been better-known as a rapper -- check out his Tip Off (College Game Time) YouTube -- jumped into the starting lineup in Smith's place and shot 4-of-6 from long range for a season-high 14 points. And freshman shooting guard Skylar McBee, a walk-on, delivered the dagger three-pointer in the final minute to become an improbable hero. The Vols will likely be ranked in the top 10 in Monday's polls, but can they stay there with a rotation that includes three walk-ons (McBee, Stephen Pearl and Josh Bone)?
Clay Travis: (@ GVX) Tennessee Upsets Top-Ranked Kansas with Six Scholarship Players.
He's not supposed to be in this position. Not supposed to be draped by a defender for the No. 1 team in the country with the ball in his hands just a few months removed from playing high school basketball in tiny Rutledge, Tenn. But he's on the court because Tennessee is down to just six scholarship players and there is no one else to put in the game. He pivots right, the crowd screams as one, aware that the shot clock is winding down but not sure McBee is aware of that fact. And then, comes the magic, the reason why we all watch college basketball.
The rest of the SEC better watch out.
Because the only thing more dangerous than the Incredible Bulk with a basketball team filled with stars, is an Incredible Bulk with absolutely nothing to lose.
Obviously, I've missed some. I'm finding myself completely unable to go to sleep right now, and really I don't think I should at this point, with my first class of the day in 3 hours. I'll just pull a crazy day tomorrow. But this win was/is awesome. If we lose this game, I feel like many of our fans might just sigh and, without admitting it, give up. I'll admit that I kinda think I might have felt that way. But looking back at it, honestly, I don't know if the team that beat Memphis would have won against Kansas. But I know that the team that beat Charlotte beat Kansas, and I believe that the team that beat Kansas was infinitely more fun to watch than the team that beat Memphis.
Tyler Smith, Melvin Goins, Brian Willians, and Cameron Tatum have my best wishes, no matter what happens to them. I don't believe any of them did anything completely horribly inexcusably vile to deserve my scorn, though they certainly have earned whatever punishments they receive. I hope they all go on to have great lives, great basketball careers, and I hope they all work on turning their image around. But this is now a blessing in disguise, because our team is bonding together before our eyes. I don't know how good we are. Talent wise, we'll get dominated by other teams. But if these guys can dig down and find the courage, strength, and resolve that they played with yesterday -- and don't unravel when the going really gets tough, which it will sooner or later -- then this team has a chance to go down as the most special basketball team I've ever watched.