If what we saw from Vanderbilt Thursday or Florida tonight stood on its own, we'd tip our cap and move on. But 48 hours after allowing Vanderbilt to shoot 57.5% from the floor and 13 of 25 (52.5%) from the arc, Tennessee did the exact same thing at Florida: the Gators shot 57.1% and 40.9% from the arc, doing most of that damage in the first half to put the game far out of reach with a 40-22 advantage at the break. Tennessee never threatened in the second half.
At some point, you can't just put it on hot shooting. 13 of Florida's first 15 made baskets were threes or dunks. Nine of Vanderbilt's final 13 baskets were threes or dunks, helping them shoot 100% in the final 14 minutes.
The answers are always more complex than they seem in the immediate postgame. It seems very unfair to change so much of the narrative about this Tennessee season based on the last 1.5 games; with the Vols up 45-32 on Vanderbilt I was excited about the NIT and what a success story this was. But Tennessee has been embarrassingly bad defensively in these last 54 minutes, and it's come against two sub-.500 teams in the SEC. Florida just lost at Missouri.
Missouri is where we thought we'd be when the season started. But whatever Donnie Tyndall's Vols did in those first 17 games to raise expectations, teams have absolutely figured it out in the last 11 games. And in the last two, much of the goodwill these Vols have rightfully built over the course of the season has been lost.
There are larger questions to be answered a little further from an outcome like this one. For now the Vols drop to 14-14 and 6-10 in the SEC. Unless Mississippi State comes back from down 10 with two minutes to play at South Carolina, Tennessee will be alone in 10th place, a game ahead of the Bulldogs and Gamecocks at 5-11. As we've been saying, 10th is important because it's the last team to not play on Wednesday in the SEC Tournament. Though the Vols will lose head-to-head tiebreakers with Alabama and Florida, two of the three teams ahead of them at 7-9, the Vols will win tiebreakers with Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and South Carolina because of (at least) a season split and UT's win over Arkansas, the SEC's #2 seed. So Tennessee still very much controls its destiny for playing on Thursday, even if they lose at LSU, in the season finale against South Carolina.
But the NIT, which seemed like such a reachable goal just a few days ago, now seems like a longshot. The Vols would need to win at LSU, who dominated them in Knoxville, beat South Carolina, and win at least one game in Nashville to get their RPI north of 100 on Selection Sunday.
It's fair to ask if this team is out of gas. But with at least three games left, it's important that they find another spark.
We'll see. Go Vols.