From the Pressbox: Here We Go Again
After watching Tennessee against Florida Atlantic in the Sweet 16 last Thusday night, I wasn’t sure who the No. 4 seed team was. Final score: FAU 62, Tennessee 55.
The 34-3 Owls sure looked like the superior team, even though they were shorter, not as athletic and didn’t play a single ranked team on its schedule. Yet FAU outrebounded the Vols 40-36, outhustled the Vols to loose balls and played like the team with superior talent. How does that happen. Even some of the players lamented that FAU appeared to want it more than Tennessee.
Why not? FAU had nothing to lose. It wasn’t supposed to be there. Tennessee was a team that had Final Four appetites. On Jan. 30, the Vols were ranked No. 2 in the nation before they cratered during February and March.
I was concerned, and even said so on The Pressbox radio show, that Tennessee had won its tournament game when it beat NCAA blue blood Duke. The Vols generally, as has been the pattern, take one step forward, then two steps back.
Tennessee beat No. 10 Texas and lost to an average Florida team. Tenessee beat No. 25 Auburn, then lost to Vanderbilt and Missouri. Tennessee beat No. 1 Alabama, then lost to Kentucky and A&M. As many have said this year, Tennessee has been consistently inconsistent. Yes, this team has been beleaguered by injury. But Tennessee had better personnel than FAU. It just didn’t show up in New York.
The Vols were abysmal shooting. How many point-blank shots did they miss? How many wide-open bunnies hit the back iron? How many times were the Vols beaten for rebounds off missed shots…on both end of the floor?
When FAU caught up to Tennessee early in the second half, you knew it was going to be a struggle. The spark we expected after Santiago Vescovi hit that early triple never catalyzed. Olivier Nkamhoua was a shell of the NBA lottery pick he displayed against Duke. The production was paltry.
How can a team appear to be that disinterested when playing for a change to move on in the biggest sporting event of the year, arguably, in Madison Square Garden? Tennessee is used to playing on a big stage. FAU is not. Yet, who looked more comfortable in the chorus line?
So what do you do? I am not advocating that UT replace head coach Rick Barnes. He’s won nearly 800 games. He’s a hall-of-fame coach. He recruits well, he wins a lot of games, but his post-season mark leaves much to be desired. But you know something, they used to say the same thing about Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne.
He recruited well, won a lot of games, but when it came to winning the big game, he often fell shorts. Then he won back-to-back national titles before retiring after clobbering Tennessee in the Orange Bowl back in 1998.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was tagged as a guy who couldn’t get it done, then he finally did in 2002. Coach Mike Krzyzewski was branded, for a while, as a guy who couldn’t get it done. In 1986, his Blue Devils lost to Louisville. He got to the Final Four in 1988 and 89, then finished as runner-up in 1990, before finally breaking through for two straight crowns in 1991 and 92.
But Barnes is a little long in the tooth. Surely he sees the results and hears the critics. Doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results is defined as insanity. I don’t think Barnes is insane, but maybe a bit obstinate.
Yet the Big Orange fold will continue to follow this program as long as it keeps winning and providing hope that one day, perhaps, Tennessee might break through to the Final Four…or better.
And now, it seems the fan base is doing the same thing over and over and expcecting different results.
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox radio show, which airs 4-6 p.m. CT, Monday-Thursday on 95.9 FM, WRJB, Camden, Tenn.