What a year.
We had the Pearl investigation open up the season with a bomb, and now we end with a fizzle as the Tennessee Volunteers finally break down and fall to the Michigan Wolverines 75-45. They played well early and held a lead for most of the half, but a late run by the Wolverines saw Tennessee trailing 33-29. With a 36 point differential over the last 26 minutes of the game, one of the most lopsided games in the 8/9 matchup of the NCAA tournament was complete.
It's really more about the entire year than the single game, though. This team has been bombarded with game-irrelevant issues throughout the entire year, and their psyche has been pushed as far as any team we've seen in recent memory. It's the kind of mental breakdown you see when a team suffers the loss of a teammate to illness or death, only the collapse occurred over the course of a year rather than in a heartbeat. The final straw came before the game, really; whatever his intention was, Mike Hamilton's statement's about the evaluation of Pearl at the end of the season instantly turned all focus onto the upcoming NCAA verdict, turning the pregame press conference into a near-interrogation of players and the coach, and almost no interest of the game itself.
Emotions are going to run really hot in Rocky Top for the next few weeks. Every tournament round will serve as a reminder of what just happened this week - from the AD's statements to the collapse, and now the official beginning of Bruce Pearl Offseason Speculation Season. But at the same time, we are finally at the end of the line. The season is over. The turmoil is over. All we have now is the waiting.
Do we get a new coach, or do we keep Bruce Pearl?
Do we get a new AD, or do we keep Mike Hamilton?
What is the NCAA's final verdict?
All these will come in due time, and they will no longer affect any basketball games this season. For once, we can just let it go.