By Frank Gale
March Madness finally arrived and, for the Vols, it has not been kind. First, UT failed to control their own fate when they were bounced in the SEC quarter finals with an uninspired performance against Alabama.
Next, Mississippi’s run in the SEC Tournament sealed the Vol’s fate when the Rebels downed Florida in the finals. So, Ole Miss went off to the NCAA Tournament with their horrific strength of schedule resume and the Vols were banished to the NIT.
The Vols rewarded their loyal fans with the unthinkable by getting ousted on their home court in the first round of the NIT. They resembled the dysfunctional team we have seen too many times this season. Simply, they did not bring their best game to the floor Wednesday and were beaten by an inspired lesser opponent, Mercer. At least Kentucky was eliminated on the road!
This turned out to be another disappointing post-season for the Vols. It was even harder to accept after the Vols appeared to be on the right track at the end of the regular season. Cuonzo Martin has a lot of work to do before next year if he wants to turn this around.
The disappointment for the Volunteer Nation was not over yet. The Lady Vols won the SEC regular season, but a loss to eventual SEC Tournament Champion Texas A&M got them a number two seed in a region with No. 1 Baylor for the second consecutive year.
The seeding for the Lady Vols will almost assure that they will need a miracle to make the Final Four this year — not a great reward for the SEC Coach of the Year Holly Warlick and her over-achieving championship team.
The Lady Vols only need to survive and advance for now.
First, they need to take care of business on their home court against Oral Roberts tomorrow. Win and they will play either Creighton or Syracuse Monday night.
The football team is learning what it means to play for Butch Jones and just how demanding it can be. So far, Coach Jones and his staff have said and done all the right things to inject needed optimism in the Big Orange Nation. The early commitments for the 2014 class will not diminish those feelings, especially with a five-star running back part of those that will don the orange in the future.
Jim Butler might want to take note that the Commodore’s will not see the same caliber of team with Coach Jones at the helm. I rather expect half-hearted efforts by some Vols are a thing of the past. The attitude we are seeing this spring could also lead to a few more wins this coming fall. Certainly, Tennessee fans are ready for things to turn around on Rocky Top.
This week has already seen some crazy upsets. So, enjoy the buzzer beaters and watch your picks in the office pool disappear one by one (at least that is usually my experience). Maybe next year, the Big Orange Nation will actually have a representative in the Big Dance. Go Vols and Lady Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)