If "impressive wins" was the only category that the NCAA selection committee used to determine the March Madness field, the University of Tennessee Volunteers might earn the number one overall seed. Tennessee has already posted wins away from home against Pittsburgh, Villanova, and Georgia, while beating Memphis by 20 and coming back from down seventeen to Vanderbilt to win in Knoxville. Unfortunately for the Vols, the committee also will see some puzzling losses in that same resume.
Obviously, no team can do anything to change its record up to this point in the season. So Tennessee is one program that will have to be especially explosive over the last six weeks or so of the regular season to garner postseason attention. And it could add to that important "really big wins away from home" category if they can knock off the 8th ranked Connecticut Huskies in Hartford on Saturday (2:00 PM Eastern on CBS).
The Vols should get a boost when coach Bruce Pearl assumes his role on the sidelines for the game. Pearl has not attended the team's last four games while serving a league-mandated 8-game suspension, which applies only to SEC games. The Vols have gone 2-2 in those four games so far.
So Pearl and the team should have no excuse to not be prepared for the Huskies. Not to say Pearl hasn't done anything lately; he has been at practices and helping his team prepare for the games that he cannot coach. But isn't it also reasonable to think that Pearl has put a great deal of thought and planning to the one game in about a four-week span that he actually gets to coach in?
Vol fans should hope that he has. This is essentially a one-game season for Pearl. Not so much for the team; but for the coach it is. Sure he's at practice, but even Tony Jones, the associate who has replaced Pearl as the head man during the suspension, is capable of implementing a game plan for the games in which he will run. So Pearl ought to be extra ready for his turn.
Think about this: UConn features one of the nation's premier scoring threats in guard Kemba Walker. Wouldn't it just make sense for Pearl to have spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure out how to limit Walker's touches and open looks? And I'm sure the UT players won't have much trouble being motivated to play for the man they intended to play for all along.
Tennessee is going to need a strong run from here on out to reach the dance. Pearl's return, albeit for one game, should provide a boost this weekend. Pearl himself likened it to the return of an injured player. If the coach has been gameplanning on this game like he should have been, the Vols might just get another convincing performance that could propel them toward a postseason appearance and maybe even a deep run therein.