Should post season play define the 2009-2010 Tennessee Volunteers?

ccording to KenPom, Tennessee has a 39% chance of beating Mississippi State tomorrow night in Starkville. I don't know whether Pomeroy is aware of Bruce Pearl's recent ratcheting up of expectations, but assuming that Tennessee does lose, its regular season record will be 22-8.

As Will and I talked about toward the end of last night's podcast, fans may or may not consider 2009-2010 a successful season when the gym doors are closed in April. Considering all that Bruce Pearl has done for Tennessee basketball and considering what could have happened to this team after the January 1 arrests, the dismissal of our best player, and the lengthy suspensions of three other key contributors, you almost have to stand and applaud for a season in which the Vols beat #1 Kansas and #2 Kentucky and almost beat another top-ranked team in Purdue, regardless of what happens in the postseason.

But have the expectations for the Tennessee Volunteers changed? Will fans be less than satisfied with the season unless the team breaks new ground and gets into the Elite Eight?

Is that even a reasonable expectation for this season? Since 2002, only 14 of the 64 Elite Eight teams had 22 or fewer regular season wins, and only eight teams had eight or more regular season losses:

2006
LSU 22-7
George Mason 22-6
2005
West Virginia 18-9
Wisconsin 20-7
Michigan State 22-5
2004
Kansas 20-7
Georgia Tech 22-8
Xavier 19-10
Alabama 16-11
2003
Texas 22-5
Michigan State 18-11
Oklahoma 21-6
2002
Indiana 18-9
Missouri 19-11
Oregon 23-8

 

At 22-8, it's certainly possible that Tennessee could make the Elite Eight. Shoot, the Vols could get hot and win the whole thing -- Maryland and Syracuse won in 2002 and 2003 respectively with only 23 regular season wins. But according to history, Tennessee making the Elite Eight or better this season would be out of the ordinary.

Of course, we've come to expect the extraordinary with Bruce Pearl, and I'm sure that's exactly the way he wants it. But if we fall short of a high water mark this season, will we view it as a failure or will we instead focus on just how much this team accomplished in the face of great adversity and the style and class with which they did it?

Basketball is a tournament sport, but that hardly means that the regular season is meaningless. The regular season ends tomorrow, and post-season play begins next week. We'll just have to wait and see whether the latter somehow diminishes the former. Make no mistake, we all want the team to win it all and to play as if its legacy depends on it, but regardless of what happens, this fan plans to just enjoy the post season ride, wherever it takes us.

Just for reference, here's a list of the last eight Elite Eight fields and their regular season records.

2009
Louisville 25-5
Michigan State 25-5
Connecticut 27-3
Missouri 25-6
Pittsburgh 28-3
Villanova 25-6
North Carolina 27-3
Oklahoma 27-4
2008
North Carolina

29-2

Louisville 24-7
Kansas 28-3
Davidson 23-6
Memphis 30-1
Texas 26-5
UCLA 28-3
Xavier 26-5
2007
Florida 26-5
Oregon 23-7
Kansas 27-4
UCLA 26-4
North Carolina 25-6
Georgetown 23-6
Ohio State 27-3
Memphis 27-3
2006
LSU 22-7
Texas 25-5
Memphis 27-3
UCLA 24-6
Connecticut 27-2
George Mason 22-6
Villanova 24-3
Florida 24-6
2005
Illinois 29-1
Arizona 25-5
Louisville 26-4
West Virginia 18-9
North Carolina 26-3
Wisconsin 20-7
Michigan State 22-5
Kentucky 23-4
2004
Kansas 20-7
Georgia Tech 22-8
St. Joseph's 27-0
Oklahoma State 24-3
Duke 25-4
Xavier 19-10
Alabama 16-11
Connecticut 24-6
2003
Kentucky 26-3
Marquette 23-4
Arizona 25-2
Kansas 24-6
Texas 22-5
Michigan State 18-11
Oklahoma 21-6
Syracuse 23-4
2002
Indiana 18-9
Kent State 26-4
Missouri 19-11
Oklahoma 27-3
Maryland 23-4
Connecticut 24-5
Kansas 27-3
Oregon 23-8
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