Monday, March 1, 2010

Bruce Pearl gets another big win, but are the Vols really that good?

So how good is Tennessee?

Well, they are a team that has lost to USC by 22 and Georgia by 15. They're a team that has lost an all-SEC player due to legal troubles. They are a team that was swept by Vanderbilt. They are currently sitting in third place in an SEC that could end up with just three teams in the tournament. And while they may be in the top 20 in the RPI and the polls, they are 30th in the all important KenPom rankings.

But they also have what may actually be the best two wins in the country, as they have beaten both Kansas an Kentucky at home.

Can anyone else in the country boast two wins as good as those?

(Hint: No)

Scotty Hopson did the John Wall dance after beating Kentucky/
(photo credit:

Which is the real Tennessee? What team is going to show up in March?

Maybe it will depend on what seed Tennessee gets.

Let me explain.

Bruce Pearl has, for a long time, been known as a big game coach. He's developed a reputation for being a coach that excels at winning games as the underdog. I'll let Pat Forde explain it:
After the Vols lost a 19-point lead against Kentucky, then regrouped to close the game on a 9-0 run for a 74-65 victory, Pearl is now 17-12 against ranked opponents. Six of those wins have come against teams ranked sixth or higher: No. 6 Texas in 2005; No. 2 Florida in 2006; No. 5 Florida in 2007; No. 1 Memphis in 2008; and this year alone, Tennessee has beaten No. 1 Kansas and now the No. 2 Wildcats. In Pearl's tenure, four top-five opponents have played at Thompson-Boling Arena. All four have lost.
Let's not forget that Pearl also led Wisconsin-Milwaukee to a Sweet 16 in 2005 as a 12 seed.

As good as Pearl has been as the underdog, he's never been able to use that to get a team past the Sweet 16.

Could this be the group that does?

Well, if there is one thing that we can be certain of, its that Tennessee can beat anyone in the country. And in a change from the last few seasons, that is a result of their defense. Tennessee isn't pressing as much as they used to in the past, instead playing tough man-to-man defense in the half court. They are very good at forcing turnovers and force opponents into taking difficult, low-percentage shots.

As good as Tennessee looked in building that 19 point lead against Kentucky, the team that will stick with me is the one that couldn't score in the second half. The team that struggled so much to find any shot, let alone a good one; Tennessee has to lead the country in shot clock violations.

Its not like the Vols are devoid of talent on the offensive end. Scotty Hopson is turning into one of the best players in the SEC. Wayne Chism is an above-average post scorer. Guys like Bobby Maze, Cam Tatum, and JP Prince show flashes of being very dangerous scorers.

There just seems to be a piece missing at times.

I like this Tennessee team. I love Bruce Pearl. This group has overcome a lot this season, and their win over Kansas with just six scholarship players -- and walk-on Skylar McBee hitting the game-winner -- is the kind of game that will be talked about in Knoxville 30 years from now.

But I just don't see this team making an extended tournament run with these offensive struggles.

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