Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Sports Columns

March 20, 2014

ROCKY TOP BEAT: UT, Auburn hoop game moves to new level with Pearl becoming Tiger coach

CROSSVILLE — The  basketball version of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, complete with ringmaster Bruce Pearl, has pitched its tent on "the plains" of Alabama. The future match ups involving Tennessee and Auburn just went to a new level for the foreseeable future.

The Vols took the news of the Auburn hire in stride and stayed focused on their early match up with Iowa in Dayton, the non-play-in game that was actually just the opposite. Folks, if it looks like one, feels like one, then the the NCAA can call it whatever they wish — it is still exactly what it appears to be — a play-in game.

The Vols sure picked the right time to win a close one. Sure would like to know how Coach Cuonzo Martin stays so calm and collected in those hectic situations.

Today in Raleigh, the Big Orange finally can experience the real NCAA basketball championship environment while writing the final chapter(s) for the 2013-'14 season. With seniors not wanting their season to end and a team playing their best ball at the end of the season, the Vols should be a tough out.

The post season often is a snap shot of the of the entire regular season. Unfortunately, we have seen the good and the bad all show up at some point this season. Vol fans are hoping that the Vols continue to win the close ones for a while longer.

The Lady Vols were also the recipient of great news this week when they earned a number one seeding in the Women's NCAA Tournament which lifts off tomorrow. The Lady Vols will be playing their first two games in the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena. The banners in the rafters will serve as a great reminder of the program's history for all to see. Hopefully, this team can hang a banner of their own before the 2014 journey comes to an end.

The AP has named Meighan Simmons and Isabelle Harrison to the All-SEC First Team this past week. They went on to name Simmons as the SEC Player of the Year. They will certainly need both of these talented players to live up to the billing if they are to survive and make it to Nashville.

The Vol football team is on spring break now before they return to complete their annual right of spring, culminating in the Orange/White Game next month. That means that the Big Orange Nation will be focused on a different shape of ball at least for a few weeks. With both baseball and softball ranked nationally, the sports teams are starting to resemble what UT athletics should look like. That is all well and good but, until football joins the party, there will be a very large void for Vol fans.

To make the most of this memory, the Vols will need to impose their will on the Minutemen from U-MASS this afternoon. This is not the UMass of old when the current Kentucky coach that took them to a Final Four in the late '90's. Still, they are coached by former UMass player Derek Kellogg  who refined his coaching under Calipari at Memphis.

The Vols will need to ride their strengths if they want to get deeper into the tough Midwest bracket. Defense, inside/out offense, and solid point guard play coupled with a shutdown defense are the ingredients needed to be celebrating a victory inside PNC Arena.

The Minutemen tied for fifth in the Atlantic 10 during the regular season and are one of six teams in the NCAA Tournament from that conference. The Vols have an opportunity to ride their recent inspired play to the round of 32. It is survive and advance with a possible match up with Duke as the reward.

It is nice to have the Vols back in the tournament. It gives the Tennessee faithful something besides our NCAA Tournament brackets to worry about. Getting through the weekend with both the Vols and our filled out brackets both still relevant will require a lot of luck. You just have to believe!

The thing that is often overlooked at this time of year is that winners are not only defined by just a national title. There are plenty of winners still participating and so many great stories yet to be written. Just embrace what both the Lady Vols and the Vols have done to be included when so many in their conference are on the outside looking in. Enjoy the madness and embrace all the positives along the way. Go Vols and Lady Vols!!!

(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)

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