It’s been an excellent season for the Tennessee Volunteers. They beat Gonzaga in what was practically a road game. They defeated Louisville on a neutral court. They won 19 consecutive games, mostly in the SEC. Finally, they beat Alabama and swept Florida. They more than earned their #1 ranking for as long as they held it.
Unfortunately, the streak came to an end last night at Kentucky. We can be honest: It was an off-night for the Vols. They didn’t play physical, tool bad shots, and let UK get too many good shots. That said, Kentucky is a top-5 team. They played their best game of the year, and will be difficult to beat even for a team not having an off-night. They did get some help from the Rupperees, but the Vols would have most likely lost even without that.
With one bad night, that was enough for some in the national media to bring out the doubt. The same voices that insisted a program like Tennessee should be honored that since-fired Greg Schiano would stoop so low as to be the Head Coach are bow insisting Tennessee is a good team masquerading as a great team. All based off of one off night against a top-5 team.
Lets be realistic: No one expected Tennessee would go 18-0 in SEC play. Anyone who has paid attention to this Tennessee team, though, should know that they are a great team. They are one of the best teams in the country this season, and have a chance to be an all-time great team. They are still very likely to repeat as SEC champions, and are built to go deep in March. One bad night at Rupp doesn’t erase any of that.
For some though, Tennessee will never be good enough to receive recognition as anything more than a fluke. The national media didn’t turn off the Duke bandwagon when they lost at unranked Syracuse. They recognized it was an off night that didn’t work out. That’s what Tennessee has Saturday, and everyone has turned on them.
Fortunately, though, this is a Tennessee team that is built on overcoming doubt. This is a squad full of scrappy players that weren’t heavily recruited. This is a team with a coach who was fired less than 5 years ago and who went through significant criticism for years before that. This is a team that is used to proving people wrong. All of the hate coming from the national media will make it that much sweeter when the Vols repeat as SEC champions and go deep in the NCAA tournament. Bring it on.