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Tennessee hoops: Bearish or bullish?

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Over the course this basketball season, we’ve seen Tennessee encounter some rocky roads. Coming into the season, Tennessee was largely favored to win the conference, an opportunity that has come and gone. The thing is, the team has been marred with such inconsistencies that it’s hard to determine what their actual output will be come tournament time.

Usually teams have settled into their mold this far into the season, but that isn’t the case for Tennessee. We know — and they know — that they are an excellent defensive club. By KenPom’s AdjD ratings, they come in third in the nation (88.1), trailing Loyola-Chicago and that headache in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. But on the other end of the floor, watching the team’s offense has been like riding the Tennessee Tornado at Dollywood.

At times, Tennessee’s offense looks excellent, as though it’s capable of keeping up with any team in the country. At other times, it looks like it would struggle to succeed in even the most menial of conferences. Over at KenPom, Tennessee’s 110.4 AdjO is 60th in the country — a metric not very becoming of a national contender.

So, as March approaches, should we be bearish or bullish on the Volunteers?

Well, the results have been mixed. I’m sure everybody remembers that 73-53 lopsided victory at Missouri to open conference play, and then the loss to Alabama in the game right after. There was also that hideous loss in Gainesville, as well as Missouri’s retaliation at the end of January. Then came the handling of Kansas to close out the first month of the 2021 calendar before suffering losses to Ole Miss and LSU.

The good thing? Tennessee has only lost in its conference matchups. As it stands, Joe Lunardi has six SEC teams making the cut for the tournament. Continuing that train of thought, he has two conference foes located in Tennessee’s region, but they wouldn’t be their immediate opponent. To face one of the teams in their region (Missouri and Florida), they would have to reach the Elite Eight.

One would think Tennessee would have the ability to work out the remaining kinks before battling an SEC squad in the tournament. That would be the hope. Currently, Tennessee — as a four seed — is projected to play Wright State, a 13 seed.

A lack of consistency is the enemy of success. When the Volunteers have played with a modicum of consistency, they’ve flourished.

More than that, John Fulkerson and Yves Pons are going to have to lead this team in the way that many expected they would coming into the year. More and more, this team seems to be the youngsters’ team: Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer have lived up to the billing, with NBC Sports projecting Springer to go seventh in the NBA Draft, while Johnson goes ninth.

Because Tennessee’s been marred with its inconsistencies, it’s still hard to make an accurate projection of how they’ll perform in March. I’ll be watching the next few games — as well as the SEC tournament — closely. But as for the question at hand? I’d still be bullish on Tennessee — it’s hard not to be, despite some of the troubles we’ve seen this season.