When I say requiem for a Tuesday, I don’t mean Ben Wyatt’s claymation movie from the television series Parks and Recreation. What I mean is a solemn remembrance of certain Tuesdays that have befallen the Tennessee basketball team. To be more specific, there are two road trip Tuesdays — January 19 and February 2 — that haven’t been kind to the program.
After Tennessee’s 52-50 loss at Ole Miss, questions remain abound, particularly after brutalizing Kansas just three days prior. Add another to the list of conference losses that Tennessee has already suffered — including Alabama, Missouri, and Florida. Prior to the start of the season, the Volunteers looked poised to ascend to the top of the conference, a pinnacle that’s now looking farther and farther away.
As I write this, Tennessee’s 5-4 conference record slots them behind five conference foes, a predicament unforeseen by fans and analysts alike. Now the peril of the situation begins to set in a bit. With only seven games remaining in the regular season, Tennessee’s hopes of a regular season conference title not only look distant, they look remote; they look unachievable. So we’re left wondering how many more mid-week slip-ups must the team (and fans) endure?
Of those remaining seven games, only two come against clubs situated higher in the standings. Tennessee will meet Kentucky twice, which, given the way the season’s going, might end up being more of a dogfight than is comfortable admitting. They’ll also matchup against Florida in an attempt to even the score. LSU is the second team with a better conference record, while South Carolina, Auburn, and Georgia round out the schedule.
Perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom, however. Fans can take solace in the fact that Tennessee will be a tournament team, barring, of course, the remote possibility that they enter a death spiral. Their non-conference record is still sterling; no, Kansas isn’t what it has been in the past, but that’s still a good resume win, particularly in the fashion that Tennessee won.
But this club is struggling to find ways to win league games, a troubling development, especially in a conference many would consider to be having a down year. While the teams within the SEC are beating up on each other (and it came out just on top in its head-to-head against the Big 12), there are plenty of question marks lingering around the league.
Alabama, the conference’s frontrunner, has lost four games: Stanford (10-7), Clemson (11-5), Oklahoma (11-5), and a good, but beatable, Western Kentucky squad (13-4). When your top club is struggling so much out of conference, it could foretell dire circumstances regarding teams’ abilities within the conference.
If Tennessee can’t find more consistency to win games in conference before season’s end, that could put this team in a lot of trouble come tournament time; but it’s not a death knell. Perhaps this squad inexplicably struggles against conference opponents but will continue to see positive outcomes outside of the conference, something that could result in a deep tournament run.
But the lack of consistency is still troubling. In a down year for the SEC, Tennessee should’ve been a shoe-in, given this roster, coach, and situation, to lock up the conference near the end of the season, grab the one seed in the conference tournament, have a real shot at the SEC title, and then move into NCAA tournament play with a lot of confidence and a lot of skill. They might still be able to grab the latter two outcomes, but it starts with consistency. Consistency is key, right?