Remember when we learned that Bruce Pearl tried to pull a fast one on the NCAA in regards to a summer party? It was ugly, and the situation worsened when a letter written to Pearl in Volunteer letterhead explaining that the school was "exercising its right" to terminate his contract in light of what happened went viral for everyone to see. Then, to really affirm the idea that it was going to be a long season in Knoxville, UT opened up their season with an exhibition loss to Division II Indianapolis. In a word: gulp.
Nothing suggested this team could be taken serious. But these damn kids nowadays; drama just rolls right off of them!
Since a rocky open to the season, the Vols have righted the ship in impressive fashion. Not only do they boast an unblemished 7-0 record, they're winning convincingly, winning on the road, and winning against top-tiered teams in basketball-centric conferences (we're referring to Villanova and Pittsburgh). Yesterday's beatdown of the Panthers is on a short and unofficial list of truly impressive victories we have witnessed this season, and was only the third time a Jamie Dixon club allowed 80+ points since February of 2009.
How is this possible? Why can't Tennessee just crumble like they're supposed to? Well, it's pretty clear that isn't going to happen. Scotty Hopson, complete with a delectable CB4-inspired fade, has propelled himself into the SEC POY chatter, and may be one of the best wings in all of college basketball. He's what Michigan State's Durrell Summers could/should be, boasting a 60 percent true shooting percentage and consistently breaking down defenders en route to the rim.
You'll be hard pressed to find anyone that agrees with SEC Commissioner Mike Slive's decision to suspend Pearl for the first eight conference games of the season (the equivalent of state authorities dipping their toes into a federal investigation, according to Jay Bilas), but the cards have been dealt and the team must find a way to persevere next month. At full strength, Tennessee has proved they're worthy of being considered as one of the top teams in the country, especially if they cut down on their 16.6 turnovers a game - easily the team's most glaring deficiency.
Assuming they don't crumble with Pearl watching from afar, the Volunteers January 22nd match-up against UConn in Hartford is a real opportunity to propel this team in to the Final Four discussion. I am not even kidding.