By Frank Gale
This week saw things at UT start to resemble some of the winters from years past. After the Vols had started to show signs of another late-season run, they came up short against a talented Florida squad. Now, they find themselves in an all too familiar position of having little room for error as they close out the regular season but with a NCAA Tournament bid still in reach.
The old familiar mixture of alcohol and the football “off season” led to an incident where several current and former players were arrested this past weekend. Say goodbye to Coach Butch Jones’ run of no significance off the field incidents since his arrival. Seems like the more things change in Volunteer Land, the more they start to look like old times.
Losing to one of the nation’s premier teams is not the end of the world for the Big Orange. The question is whether this team can do enough to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee? A win this weekend could certainly help that cause. Need a reason for optimism, the Vols have dropped back to back contests only once this season and that was in mid December.
The Vols still have seven regular season games remaining plus the SEC Tournament to make a statement. They are 11-3 at home this season. That is the good news, the bad is that the remaining teams on the schedule will do little to improve their RPI and an upset could weaken it significantly.
With only three home games remaining, the Vols need to win a few away from Rocky Top. This is a tall order for a team that has not exactly been road warriors this season with a 2-5 record at hostile venues.
This weekend the Vols (16-9, 6-4 SEC) will travel to Columbia, MO for the first of two games with the Tigers. Missouri (16-7, 4-6 SEC) has dropped only two contests this season on their home court. The Vols will need to play one of their best games of the season to steal a SEC road win tomorrow. ESPN2 is carrying the game with a 3 p.m. CST tip off.
The Lady Vols got their revenge for an earlier loss when they dominated Vanderbilt 81-53 last Monday. There are only five more regular season games remaining for the Lady Vols (20-4, 9-2 SEC). Sunday the Lady Vols will host Kentucky at noon CST in the annual “Live Pink, Bleed Orange” game on ESPN.
This game is part of ESPN’s “Play 4Kay” basketball initiative, named for Kay Yow, the legendary NC State women’s basketball coach. Kay lost her valiant battle with breast cancer in 2009. All fans attending the game are encouraged to wear pink.
The Vols will try to return to the winning side of the ledger this weekend, while the Lady Vols need a victory to stay close to SEC leading South Carolina. The margin for error is shrinking and with March Madness looming, it could be a wild ride to the finish. Go Vols and Lady Vols!!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)