Tennessee: To The NIT

Tim PollockSenior Writer INovember 5, 2016

It was hard to tell what was uglier in Tennessee’s embarrassing 77-58 loss to Kentucky:  The Vols’ defense or Bruce Pearl’s jacket and tie combination. 

Jodie Meeks didn’t go off like he did in the first matchup of these two teams, but he was about the only Kentucky player who didn’t shoot lights out against the porous Tennessee defense.  In fact, Meeks’ numbers actually hurt Kentucky’s percentages. 

Kentucky shot a blistering 60% for the game even with Meeks going only 4-14 from the field, and the Cats shot 41% from downtown despite Meeks’ 0-7 performance from distance. 

In his first game since suffering an ankle injury, Patrick Patterson looked great, notching 19 points on 9-12 shooting, including a handful of monster dunks, one of which was of the emphatic-twisting-Bill Walton-“Throw-it-down-big-man” variety.

That dunk was the metaphorical nail in the coffin as the clock went under two minutes—when Tennessee had all but given up. 

For Kentucky, even freshman Darius Miller got in on the action.  Despite averaging only 4.3 points per game, Miller went off for 17, the same number he scored in his three previous games. 

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that Kentucky turned it over four times fewer than their season average.  Turnovers have plagued the Wildcats all season, but you would never tell from watching Saturday’s game.   

You could say this was an impressive performance by Kentucky—because it was—but more glaring was how poor of a performance it was by Tennessee, especially considering the implications of the game as the East race was a four-way tie heading into the game. 

All this, of course, after Tennessee got thumped 81-65 by Ole Miss just three days prior. 

Now at only 7-5 in SEC play and 16-10 overall, the only chance the Vols have at making the dance would be winning the SEC Tournament, which seems more unlikely with every passing game.

A lot has been made of how down the SEC is this year, and I agreed for much of the year.  But while acknowledging that my SEC homerism may be getting in the way, I no longer buy into that theory.  Let us not forget that Tennessee has wins over Big East teams Georgetown and Marquette.  And Oklahoma’s sole loss was to Arkansas, who is 1-10 in SEC play.  The Hogs also took down Texas. 

While 22-4 LSU is currently the only ranked SEC team, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, and Mississippi State have all been proven to be tough teams, and each one could easily be in the top 25 right now.   

Regardless, the Vols’ big wins were a long time ago, and the way you finish a season is always a factor on Selection Sunday. 

The SEC race has been an exciting one all year, and despite the fact that Tennessee’s shot at winning the East is now over, don’t expect them to roll over for any of their remaining four opponents.