January Jumble through March Madness
Fearless Predictions for UT
by Tony Basilio
If the ’05 Calendar sports year is a precursor, we can expect the unexpected in ’06. In this vein, below are what I’m calling my Fearless First Quarter Sports Predictions. January through March promises to be an interesting time in Big Orange Country!
January begins with some much belated good news for Phillip Fulmer’s Vols. The homecoming on the coaching staff continues: Kippy Brown, a onetime UT assistant coach from the mid-’90s returns as wide receivers’ coach to round out the staff. Brown’s 2nd turn in Knoxville reunites him with David Cutcliffe. The pieces seem to be in place for a prosperous winter and spring. UT will need it with a vaunting schedule ahead in ’06.
On the basketball front: The Lady Vols welcome 12-1 UConn on Jan. 7. It is yet another measuring stick for the undefeated and top-ranked Lady Vols. The guard officially changes in this series, as Candace Parker is four assists away from a triple double as the 15-0 Lady Vols defeat UConn 80-75 in overtime. Geno can be overheard yelling through an expletive tirade, “We will see youse guys in March.” UT’s perfect season is about to come to an end in two short weeks at Duke as the crowd in Cameron proves to be too much on Jan. 23. Coach G gets the best of Pat Summitt in a classic women’s basketball battle. Somewhere in the shadows of Cameron, Coach K can be seen hawking American Express Cards.
Bruce Pearl’s boys fly through the month of January with a 12-5 record! Close losses to Memphis and Florida and a split with South Carolina have Vol fans thinking March for the first time since Uncle Jed had the green light. Chris Lofton begins to get All-America consideration as he’s named player of the week twice in the month. Pearl continues to shine as he begins to get national coach-of-the-year consideration. Tennessee’s style of play pushes them to the fore of basketball consciousness. A huge date with No. 21 Vanderbilt awaits as February begins.
The shortest month on the calendar becomes a long one for the men as a 4-5 month puts Tennessee’s men’s basketball team officially on the bubble as February expires. Tennessee survives a grueling month, which saw trips to Gainesville, Athens and Lexington. Tennessee’s record now stands at 16-9.
The Lady Vols, meanwhile, shake off the Duke loss of a month earlier to roll through an overmatched SEC. Nationally-televised battles with LSU (Rivalry Week, ESPN2) and Vanderbilt (“February Frenzy” —don’t ask me—ESPN2) provide some drama but little resistance to close the regular season with a 40-point win over Florida in Knoxville to end the month. Tennessee looks poised to claim its first National Title in close to a decade under Pat Summitt. Sade Wiley-Gatewood’s abrupt December departure (her pretty pigtails not withstanding) is long forgotten.
March begins with the men splitting their final two regular season games of the year. Chris Lofton bombs in 30 as Tennessee upsets Kentucky in Knoxville on March 1. A Jefferson Pilot regional audience sees Tennessee pick up win No. 17. The NCAA tourney is tantalizingly close! A Saturday loss to Vanderbilt four days later in Nashville could prove costly for the 17-10 Vols.
The Lady Vols continue their tradition of flat lining in the SEC Tourney as LSU takes them down in the conference title game. Weary from over 10,000 miles of travel, the Ladies look like a vulnerable team as they garner the South’s No. 1 Seed in the NCAA Tourney. Tennessee gains the honor over LSU despite the loss.
A Friday win over Ole Miss means that UT will play on Saturday for the first time in the SEC’s Tourney in the modern era. OK. Not quite that long, but close. Tennessee qualifies for the SEC semi-final for the first time since Wade “The Fade” Houston. Read it and weep, the basketball Vols are going back to the Big Dance!
Tennessee’s first round opponent holds a twist of irony as the Vols square off with Oklahoma in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday, March 16. Former UT Coach Jerry Green, now an administrative coach with the Sooners, toasts UT’s season by proclaiming, “I built that program in Knoxville,” the week of the game! Meanwhile, in another twist of fate, Buzz Peterson, whose Coastal Carolina boys were eliminated from tourney consideration back in January, decides to attend the game, adding, “I knew we were really close in Knoxville last year. I’m proud of my guys.”
The Lady Vols roll through the postseason by bringing a 17-game winning streak to the Final Four in Boston, Mass. The Ladies defeat LSU for the second time on the season in the National semi-final, setting up an all-time classic showdown with UConn in the Championship Game. I would give you the winner but the game happens in April, and this column consists of January through March!
Hope your New Year is as good as the first quarter should be on our sports calendar! Let’s make ’06 a great one!
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