Tennessee's Struggles with Trojans a Bad Sign

Joel BarkerSenior Writer IDecember 20, 2009

I've had a bad feeling about the USC game since seeing it on the schedule. It's incredibly hard for a top team to fly that far and be ready to withstand the onslaught of emotion and tough play they will experience in the first few minutes of the game.

It happens all the time. Against the Trojans, however, it didn't only happen in the first few minutes—it lasted all 40. It resulted in the Vols' worst loss under Bruce Pearl.

And even though my first paragraph may seem like an excuse, it's really not. Tennessee had no business being blown out of the building by USC.

The game was really never even close. Tennessee held an early lead, but was down 13 at halftime.

Face it, USC is not a great team: Its biggest win prior to the Vols was Coppin State.

Texas and Georgia Tech beat them by a combined 45 points. Granted, neither of those was in Los Angeles, but the point is that elite teams handle this sort of foe.

Tennessee is not an elite team—not even close right now.

Against Wyoming on Wednesday night, it seemed the Vols had possibly righted the ship.

Scottie Hopson played a great game against an opponent without multiple names (UNC Asheville, MTSU, ETSU, etc.), and Wayne Chism was on his game as well.

When those two guys are on, Tennessee will win most of the time. However when they're not on—Chism going 3-for-11 from the field against USC, for example—it's not gonna be pretty.

Hopson had plenty to be happy about against the Trojans. He scored 16 points and had two steals and two rebounds. Maybe he's finally starting to turn that consistency corner.

Overall though, these Vols have a lot of work to do. USC out-rebounded Tennessee 42-17. Tennessee shot nine percent from three point land and 35 percent overall. Throw in the 52 percent from the charity stripe, and you have a recipe for a blowout.

Was it just a bad day? Was it jet lag? Was the real Tennessee team bound and gagged by masked gunmen at their hotel while a high school team donned the orange?

I can guarantee it wasn't the latter. That was Tennessee we saw playing at the Galen Center. That was the Vols who couldn't get a rebound to save their lives, or hit a free throw, or a three-pointer.

Whether they were tired, or jet-lagged, or anything else for that matter, this lopsided loss gives the Vols faithful a rather nauseous feeling heading into some big games in the next two to three weeks.

If a middling Pac-10 team can manhandle Bruce Pearl's boys, what will No. 1 Kansas do in January? How about that trip to Memphis on New Year's Eve? Or a daunting conference slate that features Kentucky and Florida twice each?

I'll admit it doesn't look good, but if there's a bright side, it's that Bruce Pearl has a little time to straighten the guys out before those big-time tests.

Just be prepared to endure these type of losses if he doesn't.