By Frank Gale
A little over two weeks ago, the Vols looked like a team in disarray and certainly a long shot for any post season considerations. That is the great thing about college basketball, dreams of March Madness can rekindle when you least expect it. Since the disappointing loss at home to Georgia, the Vols have shown that they have the talent to maybe get to the big dance; however, they still have an uphill climb.
The Vols are in the midst of a four game winning streak, including two victories on the road. The road had not been a place that the Vols flourished earlier in the season. They will head to College Station Saturday at 3 p.m. CST where they will try to make it five in a row and three straight on the road. Of course, Texas A&M will be anything but hospitable hosts when the Vols make their first visit to Aggieland in over a decade.
The recent success started with Jarnell Stokes and then Trae Golden as the players we saw last season. Recently, Jordan McRae has found his earlier scoring punch. That nucleus and the consistent play of the “role” players, make the Vols a very dangerous opponent as they head into the last five games on their regular season schedule. Just ask Kentucky that just suffered a historic 30 point drubbing last weekend in Knoxville.
Up until this dramatic turnaround by Cuonzo Martin’s team, the highlight for 2013 had been the Lady Vols who have now run their record to 20-5 and 11-1 (not counting last night’s contest) in SEC play. Nothing that unusual for the Lady Vols, but they have company at the top this season. Texas A&M and Kentucky both have their eyes on the top spot. But first the Lady Vols will be traveling to Fayetteville, AR for a Sunday game at 1 p.m. CST.
The Lady Vols can’t be caught looking ahead to their last two games that will ultimately decide the regular season title. The good news is they should have Isabelle (Izzy) Harrison back for those last two games, if not before.
While all this is playing out, Butch Jones is still trying to figure out who the leaders are on the returning team. With the start of spring practice a few weeks off, he is using a unique idea, the "VOLympics" to build team unity.
Jones has the returning players divided into eight separate “teams” that will compete both on the field and off until the end of spring practice. Besides team unity it should give the head coach an insight as to who might emerge as the leaders on the team. After a disconnect with the prior head coach, this type of “team building” is not only needed, but welcomed by fans and players.
Rocky Top was the place to be last weekend with a sell out on Saturday for the Kentucky game and over 14,000 Sunday for the Lady Vols’ annual breast cancer awareness game against Vanderbilt. I do believe that makes the Vols 3-0 against their in-state rival in basketball so far this season.
Buckle up for a wild ride as both teams gear up for March Madness. After a disappointing football season, success on the hardwood is just what the Big Orange Nation could use. Go Vols and Lady Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)