Before we move onto Opening Day, the NBA Playoffs and/or WrestleMania, and before we start looking at Tyler Smith possibility going pro or recruiting...and before the fog eventually clears and we truly celebrate the 2008 Vols and all they accomplished, here's a couple more thoughts:
Is this a trend or a coincidence?
Started: 20-4 (.833), ranked #10 on Feb. 20
Signature win: at #12 Florida, 76-72 on Feb. 22
Finished: 2-4 (.333), lost in SEC quarterfinals, NCAA second round
Started: 21-9 (.700), ranked #22 on Mar. 5
Signature win: vs. #5 Florida, 86-76 on Feb. 27
Finished: 3-2 (.600), lost in SEC first round, NCAA Sweet 16
Started: 25-2 (.925), ranked #1 on Feb. 25
Signature win: at #1 Memphis, 66-62 on Feb. 23
Finished: 6-3 (.667), lost in SEC semifinals, NCAA Sweet 16
Obviously, if you don't win the National Championship, your season ends with a loss. And these numbers aren't rock solid - you could argue that despite the ugly loss to LSU in the 2007 SEC Tournament, the '07 Vols did play their best basketball at the end of the season, if you count the first half of the Ohio State game.
But in each of the last three seasons, the Vols have gotten their biggest win of the season in the last week of February, and then never been quite able to return to that level.
Is there a relationship between football fans and basketball fans?
When I read some of the user comments on the News-Sentinel's govols.com site, and read things like "go back to Division III" in regards to Pearl, I think that Bruce has, for the first time, crossed that line with the legions of the miserable that Fulmer's been living on for six or seven years. The bar was set so high so quickly and so unexpectedly, now when the Vols don't meet it, the same fans who can't enjoy an SEC Eastern Division title in football seem to use the same spoiled mentality in basketball. And I'm too tired this morning to talk more about how sad that is, or how I want to punch those guys right in the face and hope they never tell anyone they're a UT fan.
The beauty and the curse of March is that everyone has a chance, and 63 other teams are going home empty handed. So while you know the Vols won't be as talented next year, you also know that if they can get back to the Dance, they've at least got a shot. And all I'll say about seeding is that good grief, it can't be as hard as it was this year. But Pearl has given us a chance. And now the Vols, next year and beyond, have to capitalize on it.