>When the Vols hired Bruce Pearl as their head men’s basketball coach three years ago, did I ever think that team would be in the top five, much less have the chance to be the top-ranked team in the country in under five years?
At that point, I’d’ve been happy to see the team make it out of their first game in the SEC Tournament, much less to the big dance.
What a difference a couple of years can make. Last night, Bruce Pearl who could run for just about any office in the state today and win the vote from UT fans alone took the Vols where we’ve never been before. Well, if things play out like they’re expected to that is. Tomorrow the Vols will most likely be the top-ranked team in the nation in men’s basketball.
Pardon me for a moment, while I do the dance of joy as that news continues to sink in.
The University of Tennessee’s men’s basketball team…number one.
Of course, in the long-run, it’s meaningless. It’s only a late season ranking and unless the Vols can play well in a tough week ahead, their time at the top could be short lived. I find myself thinking back to ten years ago, during the football team’s run to the national title game. The week we got voted number one, we hosted Arkansas, who was out to knock us off. The target was on our back and if not for the biggest choke job in Arkansas football history, they might have won…on our home field.
Now the men’s basketball team has the target on their back. As the top ranked team in the land, a certain little brother school in Music City will be even more anxious to knock them off, esp. given way the game turned out earlier this year on our home floor.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year it’s that Bruce Pearl won’t let the team lose focus. He knows what’s important and his focus is on winning the first outright SEC title for this team in a long time. He’ll have the orange coat on Tuesday night, something I know will drive all the Vandy fans in Memorial Gym crazy. And I will love every last second of it. And another thing we’ve seen is that this team is balanced and has depth. I’m still waiting for the night when Chris Lofton and JuJuan Smith are on the top of their game at the same time.
I’m hoping it happens Tuesday night.
But for now, I am savoring the bragging rights. And the fact that by winning the game, Bruce Pearl has made even greater in-roads in recruiting in the Memphis area. And that’s the real result of this game. Pearl can walk into living rooms in the Memphis area, look a prospect in the eye and say, “You can play for a winner. Or you can play for Memphis…”
Now, I’m pulling for U-Conn to lose to LSU tomorrow night in women’s basketball and someone to upset North Carolina this week. Then the Lady Vols could climb back to number one in the polls for the women’s games and if the Vols can take care of business this week (no easy task, but also not beyond the realm of possibility), we could have Tennessee on top of the men’s and women’s polls.
Who’d’ve thought that was even possible three years ago?