Well. Where should we begin?
Yesterday, as we were settling in for a very dangerous week that would kick off a longer dangerous stretch of games, we decided that losing at Vandy and following that up with a loss at Kentucky would be more of a lost opportunity than the end of all hope for the season:
We'll entertain fantasies of going 2-0 this week, winning at Rupp, and everything that would mean...once we get the first one. If Tennessee is truly a championship contender, they almost have to win tonight. If Vanderbilt wins, not only would the Vols need a highly unlikely win in Lexington to play their way back into the conversation, but the Vols would still be behind the Dores in the standings, and would lose every tiebreaker via the season sweep (another reason why a loss at Kentucky wouldn't hurt: they still have to come to Knoxville, while Vandy already won here). The Vols would be looking at a third place finish in the SEC East as the most probable goal.
And again...if the Vols lose tonight and on Saturday, it's okay. This team has already given us a lot to be proud of, and they'll still have every opportunity to finish in the same way: make the tournament, and do so at a seed high enough to give themselves a shot to make the second weekend. All of that will still be on the table no matter what happens this week (barring a pair of 20 point beatdowns), and if these Vols find a way to make the Sweet 16, we'll all agree that this team has had a great year.
I didn't write those words, but they summed up my feelings perfectly. Including that nasty "barring a pair of 20 point beatdowns" caveat, which is within one point of What Happened in Nashville.
We looked downright horrid on both sides of the ball. At one point, we were allowing Vandy to hit 73% of its shots while we were hovering somewhere around 10%. We were getting out-schemed and out-hustled on the boards. Meanwhile, we were stockpiling fouls as if mistaking them for bread and milk in advance of yet another snowstorm and the officials had put them all on fire sale. In short, we, like Ole Miss earlier this week, were hungry for tacos because a comeback was highly improbable.
Yeah, J.P. Prince again had a good stat sheet-filled game, putting up a team-high 19 points. And three other Vols (Wayne Chism, Melvin Goins, and Scotty Hopson) were in double figures, but make no mistake, this was a "20 point beatdown" from tip to buzzer.
But here's the thing. Last night doesn't necessarily foreshadow Saturday night against Kentucky in Rupp. The Wildcats are the class of the league right now, and to think that we can beat them at home is practically begging for involuntary commitment, but for some reason I don't think a tail-kicking is inevitable after last night. Perhaps just the opposite. I know the announcers kept saying that Tennessee wouldn't want to go into Rupp like this, but I'm not so sure. Pearl's going to be angry. The team's going to be angry. And that bitter displeasure will likely persevere from last night's post-game through Saturday's tip. It can motivate.
And in basketball, as compared to football, the distance between a team's worst performance of the season and its best is vast. It's a long season, and in games for which the season itself doesn't hang in the balance, focus and motivation waxes and wanes. Match ups dictate outcomes on a more regular basis, so a team can "have your number." And Cinderella-sightings are common, and not just during March Madness.
There's still hope for Saturday, hope at least for a good showing and the avoidance of the second of two consecutive 20-point beatdowns.
But if we get our fleshy parts handed to us again on Saturday like we did last night, well then we could be on a taco-only diet for the remainder of the season.