Tennessee Does the Unexpected: Blasts Kentucky Wildcats Back to Reality

Joel BarkerSenior Writer IFebruary 27, 2010

KNOXVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 27: Bobby Maze #3 of the Tennessee Volunteers celebrates with teammates Scotty Hopson #32, Kenny Hall #20 and Renaldo Woolridge (right) after the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Thompson-Boling Arena on February 27, 2010 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee defeated Kentucky 74-65. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Friends had been trying to tell me all week, but after Tuesday night's loss to the Florida Gators in a most humiliating fashion, I decided not to believe.

Yesterday, my own father tried to tell me it was going to happen. A local radio personality who is all-Vol virtually promised it would come to pass. Given Dr. Basketball's normal penchant for being horribly wrong on his picks, I had even more reason not to believe.

To be quite honest, I thought that the '09-10 BasketVols could very well end the season on a six game losing streak, and would probably bow out early in the SEC tournament. Thus, I reasoned, the Vols should be a bubble team at best.

Thankfully, I could not have been more wrong.

On Saturday, the Vols beat their second future No. 1 seed of the NCAA tournament.

Coming in to this Saturday's games, Kansas and Kentucky each had one loss. After today each has two losses. Half of those losses came at Thompson Boling Arena in Knoxville.

The BasketVols have been less than spectacular on the road this season, which would help explain their 21-7 overall record.

But the two gigantic wins on their home court cannot be understated.

I know home wins are expected by good teams, but when you end the undefeated record of the team that has been No. 1 (Kansas) virtually all season long, and you follow that up by beating the mighty Kentucky Wildcats who have been No. 2 virtually all season long, it's a remarkable accomplishment.

For those still wanting to discount or otherwise pooh-pooh this win just look at last season.

Kentucky had one of its worst over .500 seasons in the programs history last in '08-09. The Wildcats became mere Mildcats and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 seasons. Yet the 'Cats swept the season series from the Vols, who played in the SEC Tournament Finals and made the NCAA tournament as an eight-seed.

So when Kentucky pulled an Alabama Football business move and threw a ton of money at a great coach to return the program to it's rightful, lofty perch there was an unrealistic thought among the Vol-faithful that Tennessee might not beat Kentucky for quite some time.

Today was the day, however.

Even after the Vols blew a 19-point lead and allowed Kentucky to tie it up with two minutes to play, Tennessee was not to be denied. It finished the game on a 9-0 run in which John Wall was actually called for a charge to all but end the 'Cats chances of finishing the season with only one loss.

Now the outlook has obviously changed for this Volunteer basketball team.

Games against Arkansas and at Mississippi State suddenly do not look so tough.

I know it will be nearly impossible to match the intensity of the crowd, or the emotions of having your arch-rival, which also happens to be one of the best teams in the country, on the ropes, but if Saturday showed us anything, it showed us that finishing '09-10 on a high is more than possible.

As for Kentucky, it will probably still get a No. 1 seed, barring a monumental collapse over the season's final two weeks.

It will still make it through to the Elite 8, at least. But a certain Final Four finish is definitely in jeopardy if you ask me.

I have said it all season long. Kentucky is incredibly talented, but extremely young and inexperienced. That inexperience was part of the problem in Knoxville today.

John Wall is a great basketball player, but his lack of maturity and his ridiculous me-first attitude will end up costing these Wildcats sooner or later.

Kentucky may have went the 'Bama football route of hiring a tremendous coach, but it did not hire a coach who has fared especially well past the Elite 8. At least Nick Saban had been to the top of the mountain. Coach Cal has not.

Granted he's been close, but when he came within a few free throws of winning a national title his extremely talented, but young Memphis team could not finish the deal.

Kentucky will suffer the same fate before it makes it past the second weekend of the tourney.

Tennessee will probably not make it that far. The Vols might not even make it out of the NCAA tournament's first weekend.

Saturday's win, however, was almost a championship in itself.

A great finish to the season and a nice run in the SEC tournament could be all this team needs to get hot at the right time.