Yikes. Memories of those fantastic games for the basketball Vols against Villanova and Pitt that had fans talking about how much better Tennessee was than the two best teams in the best basketball conference in the nation? Fading like your favorite dream. Four slug-fests in a row against teams that, well, can't really be called the best, can they, will do that to you. Last night's 68-62 win over UT-Martin didn't turn out to be the Vols' fourth consecutive one-point game in a row against a team we'd hoped to beat comfortably, but it certainly wasn't comfortable.
The Skyhawks, who'd just been completely embarrassed in a 100-40 loss to Ohio State, led at the half and for much of the second half as well. Fortunately, Tobias Harris -- who missed a bunch of practice this week because he got caught at home in the Eastern Seaboard snowstorm and didn't start -- thawed out just in the nick of time and pretty much won the game himself, scoring eight consecutive points for Tennessee in the final three minutes and earning himself a double-double (13 points and 10 boards).
Still, it wasn't exactly an awe-inspiring performance by the team now was it? The more games like this I see, the more I think we're missing J.P. Prince. Even last year's team had periods of time where the team just seemed to step into quick-set concrete, and it always seemed to me that it was Pajamas who got them out, usually by changing something. Instead of just running the same lanes and patterns, he'd go snooping for a hidden soft spot in the defense that no one else on offense could see, and when he found it he'd stick his huge alien head in there, demand the ball, shoot it, and often make it. He'd then insist loudly that he was fouled, but that was J.P. Regardless of whether he'd made the shot or ticked off the refs, he'd broken the defense and pulled the offense out of the Gorillia Glue.
But that's just me talking. I'm sure everyone has a theory on why the Vols have gone from world-beaters to barely beating mid-majors. How to fix it, though, well there's the rub. Even Bruce Pearl doesn't have the foggiest clue:
"I’ll take responsibility for the rotations being what they are," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said. "I think the biggest factor for me is we are consistently inconsistent.
"If you’re asking the head coach who he wants to have out there, the head coach doesn’t know who he wants out there. That’s a scary thing to be in January and not really know."
Yeah. But there's a lot of talent on this team, right? I mean, it's like MacGyver was actually allowed to go shopping before he read the script. The components are there, and we can trust that Pearl will keep pushing buttons and pulling levers and stepping on toes and duct-taping Things That Are Broke, and that eventually he'll find the magic combination.