It's been another challenging week on the Hill for Tennessee Vols athletics.
I'm sure you know the story by now, but in case you don't...
Four Vols basketball players were stopped for speeding on New Year's Day. Police then found marijuana, an open container of liquor, and two unregistered hand guns in the vehicle. One of the guns had an altered serial number, which is a federal crime.
These were not four ordinary basketball players either.
Among the four was senior star forward, Tyler Smith. Cameron Tatum, a key sixth man; Brian Williams, backup post; and Melvin Goins, backup point guard were also involved.
The Vols have struggled mightily at times this season. Before last week's incident, Tennessee basketball was seemingly in a struggle to find out exactly who or what it was.
Sure, Tennessee's early loss was impressive—a one-point loss to undefeated Purdue on a neutral court in which Vols forward Wayne Chism missed a wide-open shot at the buzzer.
After that, however, it took a comeback to defeat Wyoming at home. It took a strong second half effort to defeat MTSU and College of Charleston—two teams that should have been packing their bags at halftime. Then came the debacle at USC.
Throughout each and every one of those games it seemed the Vols struggled to find and enforce an identity.
Whether it was using Tyler Smith at point guard or trying to wake Scotty Hopson out of his never-ending slumber, it seemed like the battle with this experience-laden team was going to be uphill all season long.
That lopsided loss at USC has been smoothed somewhat with a win at Memphis on Thursday. There was a prevailing thought that maybe the basketball Vols had finally figured it out. But any momentum gained in that game was pretty much destroyed with the four knuckleheads on Friday.
For all the struggles the Vols had with those important four, what can Tennessee fans reasonably expect without them?
You simply do not lose an NBA-caliber forward in Tyler Smith and get better, do you? Losing a depth in Cameron Tatum who can come off the bench and drain a three at any minute surely will hurt, right?
Being virtually stuck with one post presence, Wayne Chism, because his backup, Brian Williams is out is surely going to end in disaster, correct? Having only one natural point guard after losing Melvin Goins has got to be detrimental, doesn't it?
What if having those four on the roster was adding to the confusion? What if they were just muddying the waters a bit?
Just what if Scotty Hopson was intimidated by Tyler Smith's presence on the team and could not shake his shadow long enough to be the solid, NBA prospect everyone thought he was as a McDonald's All-American?
What if guys like Chism, Kenny Hall, Renaldo Woolridge, and Bobby Maze step their game up to fill the void left by the fearsome foursome?
It's definitely possible. And there's a good chance we got a slight glimpse of that in their first game back since the incident.
The Vols played host to Charlotte, who handed Rick Pitino his worst home loss ever earlier this season when the 49ers defeated Louisville by 22 points.
In the past this is a game that a Tennessee team would have completely folded early. We've seen the Vols face problems before and not even show up the next game—remember getting blown out by Kentucky 90-72 last year?
Well the exact opposite happened this time as the Vols played together as a team for 40 minutes against Charlotte. Crushing the 49ers 88-71 was just a start for the team now known as the leftovers.
Is it really possible that the Vols have actually gotten better by cutting the fat? Is there really such a thing as addition by subtraction?
But if Wayne Chism's 18 points and Scotty Hopson's 17 points are any indication, this may be exactly what the Vols needed.