Bruce Pearl looks to end a quarter-century of post-season disaster
by Tony Basilio
The march through March is back! To commemorate the occasion, Tennessee has decided this year to participate in the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament. Newsworthy since the Vols are making a return trip for the first time in over 20 years. Before you fire off the corrective correspondence, let me explain. Sure, Tennessee has made the tourney a few times since the early DeVoe years, but they’ve never really mattered. That has been left to the Lady Vols here in Rocky Top. But times are a changin’.
Tennessee, who enters the SEC tourney in Nashville as a number one seed in the East, hasn’t been to the semi-finals in over a decade! They are so putrid in early March in the SEC tourney that Wade Houston is actually tied for the best tourney winning percentage in the modern era with Don DeVoe. ’Nuff said!
Wade the Fade was 5-5 in SEC tourney play. In ’91, UT went to the SEC Tourney as a sixth seed. A team with only nine wins overall went on an unimaginable three-game tear before running out of gas versus Alabama in the Sunday finale.
Kevin O’Neill was a less-than-illustrious 1-3 in the SEC Tourney. His lone victory was over Alabama and somebody named David Hobbs.
Jerry “Uncle Jed” Green amassed an embarrassing 2-4 record in the annual league gathering. Green somehow managed early exits at the hands of Arkansas and Mississippi State, both of whom were number four seeds while UT was a number one seed. Mr. March’s most pronounced loss in the SEC Tourney came at the hands of South Carolina. Tennessee, a number one seed with the most wins in school history, was dismissed by the Cocks who were a number five seed.
Buzz (I like Krystal) Peterson was 2-4 in the SEC tournament. All in all, his reign marks the end of a quarter-century worth forgetting.
While Wade Houston is a co-owner of the best overall mark in the modern era in the SEC tournament, Jerry Green stands alone as UT’s Mr. March. Look it up. Green is UT’s most successful coach in the NCAA tourney in the modern era! Now, that’s hard to swallow! Even his high points are besmirched by the immutable fact that it was bad even while it was good. Why? Remember any of these gems?
Illinois State: Jed’s first trip to the Dance with the Vols was spoiled by Rico Hill. Tony Harris (Mr. March Number Two) was 1-13 from the field in the game. Tennessee shot 79 shots and made 29. That’s 50 misses in 40 minutes! Hill finished with 22 pts but was only six of 23 from the field.
A Jed signature win occurred versus Delaware (62-52) in Charlotte in ‘99. UT shot 33 percent from the field and still won in what has to be considered one of the ugliest NCAA tourney games in history. Delaware shot 29 percent from the field. March Sadness was truly on display a few days later against Steve Alford and Southwest Missouri State.
This was a Jed-era gem! Southwest Missouri State pounded Tennessee 81-51 on March 14, 1999. Tennessee was six of 29 from three-point land with Tony Harris throwing up a two for 10 mark behind the three-point line. Vince Yarbrough (Mr. March Number Three) was one for seven. The Vols were down 10 at the half and allowed SMSU to shoot 51 percent for the game.
Remember the line about it being bad even while good? The first round win over Louisiana Lafayette (63-58) in March 2000 is certainly meritorious of this description. The Vols (as was the case in much of the Jerry Green era) used superior talent in sleepwalking to victory. Tennessee was bailed out at the end when Lafayette, down two, saw Tony Harris turn the ball over to the Ragin’ Cajun Brett Smith, only to see a phantom call whistled on the opponent.
The one legit win UT has in March also represents the high-water mark in school history. UConn was a defending National Champion when they entered the Birmingham Civic Center on March 19, 2000. With minimal services from point guard Khalid El-Amin, the Huskies struggled in a 65-51 loss to the Big Orange.
As hard as it is to comprehend, Green had Tennessee on the doorstep of the Final Eight, only to lose a seven-point lead to North Carolina on Friday March 24, 2000 in Austin, Tex. The Vols blew a golden opportunity versus a poor man’s Carolina Team. Coached by embattled Dean Smith assistant Bill Guthridge, the Heels featured Ed Cota, Joseph Forte, Chris Lang, Jason Capel, Julius Peppers, Max Owens and Terrence Newby. That Carolina has as many stars in the NFL as in the NBA from this team at the present seems fitting. Doesn’t it?
Here’s hoping Pearl and the boys can create some lasting memories. After this exercise in futility that is Tennessee in March, my memory banks are being flushed! I promise. Come on Bruce. Let’s get Wade and Jed, in your words, “off the charts.”
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