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:
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.