Wednesday, March 21, 2007

As Sweet as a Tootsie Roll

I was refraining from posting anything at all about the success of the Tennessee basketball program until the team reached a point that I called the "choke point." What was my standard? Reach the Sweet 16. The last time Tennessee advanced to the Sweet 16 was the 1999-2000 season under much-maligned Jerry Green. Every Volunteer fan would have been happy under the circumstances, but for those who know little about Tennessee basketball, I would like to explain why we all were hacked off.

First, in our last Sweet 16 appearance, we were leading 8th seeded North Carolina (yes, when they had Bill Guthridge) by 7 points with 4:48 to play, and Brendan Haywood had been on the bench since the 8 minute mark, meaning Tennessee had this game in their control. That was, until North Carolina took off on a 15-3 run to end the game, and to end Tennessee's season. In fact, Tennessee didn't hit a single FG for over 7 minutes, breaking the drought with 13 seconds left. The game was a premonition - a sign of what was to come. The next season, Jerry Green led our Volunteers to another pretty record, and another first round defeat. Here are the tournament accomplishments of Tennessee under Jerry Green:

1997-1998: 8 seed, 81-82 loss to 9 seed Illinois State in the 1st Round

1998-1999: 4 seed, 62-52 win over 13 seed Delaware, 51-81 loss to SW Missouri State in the 2nd Round

1999-2000: 4 seed, 63-58 win over 13 seed Louisiana-Lafayette, 65-51 win over 5 seed Connecticut, 69-74 loss to 8 seed North Carolina in the Sweet 16

2000-2001: 8 seed, 63-70 loss to 9 seed Charlotte in the 1st round

See, Jerry Green left a lot to be desired in March, and even though we were pretty new to the entire experience, the fans were upset. Jerry also couldn't control his players, and they obviously didn't respect him. In a game where Tony Harris was too hurt to play and thus sat in street clothes on the bench, a scuffle broke out near the opposing team's bench. Tony Harris sprints the length of the court to get into the action - it wasn't pretty. He was fired after the 2000-2001 season.

Next came the Buzz Peterson era, where a nice guy almost didn't finish last. Fans were split - some wanted Buzz to stay, considering how nice of a man he was. Others wanted him gone, and they got their wish after the 2004-2005 season.

Everyone knows the 2005-2006 Tennessee story. And now, here we are, March, 2007. Our Volunteers have reached the Sweet 16 again, and this time, if the Vols lose, it won't cause any anger or pink slips. The general vibe around this basketball program is that whether Ohio State ends our season or if we continue on, our program will be stable. Bruce Pearl has brought not only a winning program to the hardwood, but his attitude is exactly what everyone needed. Sure, if Tennessee landed any other sure-fire mid-major coach, there would be more wins. However, the silly feeling in our bellies and the excitement in our voices wouldn't be a tenth of what they are right now. Bruce Pearl is exactly what this team, this fan base, this program, this university, and this landscape of college basketball needed. It's as sweet as a tootsie roll.

Oh, the game? It should be another classic between the Buckeyes and the Volunteers. For those of you who didn't see it, here's how it ended:

A lot of the Tennessee fan base feels like Tennessee should have won this game in Columbus. After Lewis nailed the dagger, Tennessee missed a shot at the other end, but the Buckeye who rebounded the ball stepped out of bounds with more than 2 seconds left on the clock, but it was uncalled and the buzzer sounded. The stats show that Tennessee didn't play all that well, either, but we still almost pulled it out.

Here is a look at some shooting stats in the Ohio State game compared to their season percentage in parenthesis:

Jujuan Smith: 1-1 2ptFG, 1-8 3PT (45.4%, 36.9%)

Chris Lofton: 7-9 2ptFG, 3-11 3PT (47.8%, 41.7%)

Wayne Chism: 2-3 2ptFG, 1-5 3PT (44.5%, 34.7%)

Tennessee: 5-11 FT (65.4%)

Bare with me here, but let's adjust the points for these averages compared to what they did in January:

J. Smith: 5 points vs. Ohio State (9.76 projected)

C. Lofton: 23 points vs. Ohio State (22.36 projected)

W. Chism: 7 points vs. Ohio State (7.88 projected)

Tennessee: 5 FT points vs. Ohio State (7.19 projected)

If just these 3 players had shot their averages against OSU and the FTs were average, Tennessee would have scored 7.19 more points - and we lost by 2. Obviously, there are so many variables that created these poor shooting numbers, but it's interesting to see.

Lastly, for more good karma for our Volunteers, let me point you into the direction of Ken Pomeroy's Game Plan for Tennessee. If you click on the Eff tab for offense, it will arrange the games in a manner where Tennessee's offense was most efficient descending to the least efficient. As you'll see, Tennessee's 4th worst offensive showing was against Ohio State in January. I firmly believe that if Tennessee plays above average offensively against Ohio State, the Volunteers will win. Granted, one of Tennessee's best defensive performances was against Ohio State, so we'll need our boys to keep that up!

With this being my first real basketball blog, I must apologize for the chaotic format. This experience has been as exciting as almost any football achievement, so understand that during my writing of this blog, I was giddy with excitement. I'm sure with more experience, these basketball blogs will become a little more organized.

Oh, thanks for reading, and speaking of tootsie rolls:

No comments: