Return your seat back and tray-tables to their upright and locked position, because the University of Tennessee men's basketball team are on their final approach towards the NCAA tournament and things are bound to get turbulent.
Rarely on a real plane ride do things start to get bumpy before the wheels leave the tarmac, but the Vols ride has been rough from the start.
The forecast for the Vols 2010-2011 season got dramatically worse this past off-season when allegations of recruiting violations and lying to the NCAA were levied on the program. On September 10th, 2010, it poured down rain when Bruce Pearl offered a teary-eyed apology for his misdeeds.
But throughout all the turbulence the Vols have carried on, and weathered the storm.
The beginning of this season offered the Vols a shelter from that very same storm, in the form of a basketball court, and the Vols jumped on the opportunity to take refuge from the onslaught of bad press even if it was only for a little while.
They opened the year up with seven straight victories, five of which coming against teams who still have a real chance at making the field of 68 (highlighted by Villanova and Pittsburgh).
The Vols were flying high, and climbed into the Top 10 when things unexpectedly took a turn for the worse, when they sandwiched a loss on the road to Charlotte between two home losses to Oakland and USC.
On New Years Eve they added another tough home loss to College of Charleston before issuing a beatdown at home to nationally ranked Memphis, as the inconsistent Vols continued to struggle finding their identity.
When the Vols opened up their conference slate without head coach Bruce Pearl, who was serving an eight game conference suspension for his aforementioned violations, there were questions about whether or not interim head coach Tony Jones could survive in a tough SEC Eastern division.
Jones kept the Vols competitive and in the race after going 5-3 during his reign, and the Vols also played UConn tough as nails in Connecticut late in January (with Pearl since it was a non-conference matchup).
So when Bruce Pearl made his return to the SEC, it looked as if the Vols were in good shape. But once again the inconsistency reared it's ugly head and the Vols looked as if they were flying against the jet stream in ugly home losses to UGA and Miss. St.
Sunday, the University of Tennessee finished it's regular season suffering another setback at home to hated rivals Kentucky in a game that essentially summed up the season for the Vols. Now the Vols have put the NCAA tournament selection committee in a unique position.
What exactly does the committee value more?
Bad home losses or great road and neutral site wins?
I think it's safe to say at this point the Vols should be worthy of an at-large bid, but they have put themselves in a spot where a bad loss to Arkansas in the first round of the SEC tournament could potentially have them trading in those guaranteed seats for standby.
Now, here in the second week of March, the Tennessee Volunteers are set to make their final descent towards "March Madness," and Big Orange Nation has to wonder which Tennessee they will get to see.
We all know that this team is fully capable of sticking the landing and making a deep run into March, but we also know that the first responders should be on call, because they are equally capable of crash landing in a fiery mess.
Ryan Wooden is currently serving as a Recruiting Analyst for http://knoxvegasvols.com/. For more recruiting updates and Tennessee related content be sure to check it out. Also follow me on twitter at http://twitter.com/ryan_wooden
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