Strange: Fans should savor feeling

College basketball is a postseason sport. This we know. Every analyst tells us so.

February, no matter how fantastic, is mere prelude to March Madness, which ultimately defines seasons for posterity.

That's all fine and good, but if you're a Tennessee men's basketball fan it's OK to revel in the moment.

It's not only OK, it's encouraged. You never know when a time like this might come back around.

Carpe diem. Seize the day.

Seize nine days while you're at it.

From the 66-62 win at Memphis on Saturday to the Kentucky game and Ernie Grunfeld ceremony at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday, it shapes up as an unforgettable week in UT basketball annals.

In between those bookends falls tonight's visit to Vanderbilt. And that might prove to be the toughest assignment of a tough week.

In fact, no slight intended to the Tigers or Wildcats, I'm betting it is.

"Vandy is playing awfully well,'' UT coach Bruce Pearl said Monday, and he meant it.

The Commodores obviously are catching a Tennessee team that has little time to climb down from Cloud Nine.

Memphis was a grand scene, with all the energy of at least an NCAA regional. I surfed the leading sports Internet sites Saturday morning and UT-Memphis was the lead art and/or story on virtually every one: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sportsline, The Sporting News, even the New York Times.

The game itself lived up to every bit of the hype. To escape victorious required phenomenal effort.

News Sentinel TV ace Terry Morrow says the game was a ratings monster, doing a 30.9 household rating. How to translate a 30.9: Hit shows "CSI" or "American Idol" are thrilled with a 13 or 14.

On Monday came the spoils, the confirmation that Tennessee is No. 1 in both polls for the first time in history.

Meanwhile, Pearl and the team have been swamped by congratulations. Pearl said he's heard from Grunfeld, Bernard King, Reggie Johnson, Allan Houston, Mike Jackson and more.

Having cleared so high a hurdle to start the week doesn't necessarily make it easier to get over the remaining ones.

Vanderbilt is 23-4 and perfect in Memorial Gym, a court quite possibly still slippery with Wildcat blood. Kentucky was drawn and quartered by the Commodores on Feb. 12.

If not for the hoopla generated by Memphis and Tennessee's singular seasons, the Commodores would be celebrated widely for what could still turn out to be the best season in school history.

Coach Kevin Stallings isn't complaining about flying a little below the radar.

"Tennessee's had a great year and Memphis has had a great year,'' he said Monday. "They're getting what they deserve.

"I don't feel we're slighted in the least.''

UT begins the week with a two-game lead in the race for an outright SEC regular-season title. But with four remaining games the only thing settled thus far is that the Vols won't be worse than a No. 4 seed in the SEC tournament.

And don't think for a second Kentucky has conceded one bit.

The Wildcats have gathered themselves from an agonizing non-conference start and are 9-3 SEC with a favorable schedule remaining.

"We're not focusing on the SEC tournament or the NCAA tournament,'' Kentucky's Joe Crawford told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "We still have a chance to win the SEC (regular-season title).''

To keep that chance alive, the Cats must win in Knoxville on Sunday. They fell short last year on a night when King's number was retired. With Grunfeld's number headed to the rafters Sunday, it'll be another emotionally charged atmosphere.

What a week. Tennessee will need to empty its bag of tricks to get through intact. Pearl needs two wins from the orange blazer that comes out of the closet this week.

If the Vols are still No. 1 when the next polls come out, it will be proof Tennessee seized not just one big day in Memphis but a whole week.

Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276 or strange2@knews.com.

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Comments » 37

Hunter writes:

Mike, you're on point as usual. The Vandy game has scared me for months - if you have time or interest, go back and look at my remaining season picks from many weeks ago - I had us beating Tiger High and losing this one at Vandy. I HOPE UT has their eyes on the prize and can adapt to the funky dynamics of Memorial Gym and shoot the lights out.

newtonrail writes:

rabidvolfan, I won't out you as others have. But after the first 5 sentences, did the butter slide out of your hands? Are you really John Adams,Jr?

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Alas, fame is fleeting. We'll enjoy this ride as long as Bruce & Company allow us. Beat the Commodores.

Remember the old dirge -"Some men go fast, some men go slow, the saddest of all is that some men never go". We went, we like it, keep us there till the bubble bursts.

Go Vols.

murrayvol writes:

Savoring over here boss. And pretty soon now I'm going to get out there and carpe diem.

DadwasaVol writes:

I haven't been very focused at work lately. I'm savoring the whole scenario.

waterskier3#226480 writes:

beat vandy!!!! because they are going to use this as spoiling our season etc.. just like football except they have the talent to pull it off... so stay focused and win!!!!!!!!!!!!! then lets beat kent by 50..... i dislike the cats :):)

pauln500#205995 writes:

Amidst these glory days for the Vols, here's a sobering question about our basketball program - Can Bruce Pearl handle success, or will he self-destruct?

Obviously, this question does NOT apply to any aspect of his basketball program but rather to his ability to control his personal life. The first negative indication is that he divorced his wife. No one knows the circumstances, but one hates to see family relationships torn apart.

Add to this unfortunate situation, his playful physical contact with Erin Andrews of ESPN (on national television, and now all over the Internet), one has to wonder what's next. Let's hope these preliminary indications amount to nothing. Hopefully, he will keep in mind that there are women who will go after him, for the express purpose of filing a sexual harrassment suit, for actions less agregious that he's already guilty of.

Let's hope he doesn't destroy such a fabulously promising career.

CoverOrange writes:

AF1, God gave us free will so we can go to the 8:30 mass.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

AFl,Our small country church has a circuit rider that greets us a 9:00AM. If it works for the Lord, it works for me. Get to the Sunday restauant ahead of the neighboring congregations.

Bananna pudding is still warm.

Chainsaw writes:

"Hopefully, he will keep in mind that there are women who will go after him, for the express purpose of filing a sexual harrassment suit, for actions less agregious that he's already guilty of."

Pearl is guilty of what???

johnlg00 writes:

pauln500, I think it will take a good deal more evidence than you have provided so far to worry too much about what you are implying. As you say, we don't know the circumstances of the divorce. Maybe his ex didn't like Knoxville. They were pretty far under the radar in Indiana and Wisconsin; maybe she found the spotlight too bright in K'ville. Maybe they were having trouble before this but, until CBP made a lot of money at last, she didn't figure to get enough of a settlement to live on if the marriage was dissolved. I'm not trying to knock the lady; from what I've seen of her, she certainly seemed nice enough. I'm just saying that there is ALWAYS more to the inner dynamics of a relationship than outsiders can ever know. While I agree that there are some overly-touchy feminists out there who would try to get a big payday out of something like the Erin Andrews "incident", I doubt that she is one of them; she is a sports media pro who has been around a lot of crazy coaches and players. Unless there is more evidence than we have so far that CBP is a "serial groper", let's save that particular worry for another day.

TommyJack writes:

airforceone: OR, you could ask ole sjt for a special on-line sermon that fits the time-table.
No, just kidding. That's a bad idea. You'd be lucky to make it to the orange & white game.... lol

hueypilot writes:

Excellent post PaulN, despite criticism you are bound to get. I think the only one who can slow Bruce Pearl down is Bruce Pearl. I have known Coach Pearl since USI and have long admired him as a coach and a straight shooter. Pride goeth before a fall and not everyone can flourish in that white-hot light of success, and he is fast getting recognition in keeping with his third best winning percentage among active coaches. Right now Bruce's successes and ours are exactly linked and we're all wishing him the greatest fortune.

johnlg00 writes:

Before I get too many flames, I should say that I realized just after I hit the "post comment" button that I should have put "feminists" in quotes. In fact, I always get a chuckle out of today's young women who have benefited from the activism of their mothers but seem anxious to distance themselves from the term "feminist". The somewhat older term "gold-digger" would have better captured my intended meaning. I agree that CBP needs to be aware that, as a public figure, some women might indeed try to take advantage of his gregarious nature in that way.

pauln500#205995 writes:

For Chainsaw........."Pearl is guilty of what?" He is guilty of nothing, but he doesn't have to be guilty to find himself embroiled in a public relations nightmare that would jeopardize his career at the University.

DadwasaVol writes:

Gator4life - thanks for the sportsmanship. I, however reluctantly, pulled for the Gators in their NC games. Keep it in the SEC!

TommyJack writes:

pauln500: BP in no jeopardy.

Dadwas: After searching the whole scenario, I, too, for forced to pull for the gators in NC game. Was painful. Sort of like watching your mother n law drive off a cliff in your new truck.

jhmclain#224991 writes:

Thanks Gator. I also root for the SEC teams (except for Bama) and was pulling hard for Florida in their championship games in FB and BB. Lastly, as I tell a good Gator friend of mine - Gaffney didn't catch the ball but then you guys could point to the infamous penalty before our game winning field goal a few years ago - oh well! Have a good day.

DadwasaVol writes:

Yes, TommyJack, I'm searching and savoring the whole scenario. Yes, it hurts to pull for the Gators - kind of like going to the dentist. Necessary, but painful.

Chainsaw writes:

Pauln500, so basically you're just speculating about scenarios that have no basis in fact. And for what reason?

brucealmightyfan writes:

Right back at you gator4life. I was tickled to see the Gators put it on Ohio State. We did soften them up a bit for you though. I still don't know how they got away from us.

FatherVol writes:

AF1, you should be in my position in the Central Time Zone where the game begins at 11...right in the middle of the 10:30 Mass. Of course, the Memphis fans don't give a flip about me and my team; they like to see me suffer.

asleep#212036 writes:

I always pull for SEC teams in national match-ups, even Bama (although that one really hurts me 'cause I have to live there). As Mr. Reagan once said, "A rising tide lifts all boats." Every time an SEC team wins on the national level, the entire conference benefits. How much mileage do you think we'll get in football the next few years with back to back NC's? Same for B-ball. And for our Gator friend, same here for Donovan. Great coach and always classy, win or lose. Even Calipari was eerily quiet and complimentary after the loss on Saturday. Let's just hope this isn't a one-and-done ranking. Beat Vandy. Go Vols!!!

DenmarkVol_aka_Mbumburu writes:

I just hope to goodness the boys have enough gas and grit left for Vandy. I would love to be a Commodore right now (not really ever). Glory is teed up perfectly for them.

We'll need another monster effort on the boards. Might Pearl offer the same soft-man/sorta-zone/collapse/pack-it-in-tight defense that so confounded Memphis?

Gonna be a tough one. If any coach or team can go into Memorial Gymnasium and come out with a W, it's Pearl and these guys.

johnlg00 writes:

mbumburu, we might have to do something different tonight. Unlike Memphis, Vandy probably CAN beat us shooting outside. I see us out on the 3-pt line, in the early going at least, and switching all the screens. We will probably depend on our post men to cover Ogilvy by themselves unless or until he starts killing us too bad. I expect a much higher-scoring game than we played against UM, in which our offense may have to carry much of the load. I just hope we don't have to try to play catch-up late with Vandy going to the line time after time.

TommyJack writes:

mbum: sortazone sorta confused ole Dickie V, too.

pauln500#205995 writes:

For Chainsaw...........I'm simply saying that I hope Bruce realizes he's suddenly a celebrity, and celebrities must be on guard 24/7 against the money-hungry leeches that are out there. Just ask Frank Gifford, Bill O'Reilly, et al, who got caught in their trap.

I'm just raising a red flag so that, perhaps, talking about the unlikely possibilities might cause someone (like Mike Hamilton) to help alert Bruce to the dangers.........It is unbelievable how many sexual harassment cases are filed every day with little or no basis.

I hope you know, no one is pulling for BP more than I am. I started watching UT B-Ball in the days of Coach Sines.....If you're lucky, you aren't old enough to remember what it was like back then? To see us at No. 1 now is absolutely fabulous. Hopefully, we can stay at these lofty heights.

Vols4Ever writes:

asleep

agree that we should always be for SEC vs. everyone else even if it may hurt

but, don't let your blinded devotion to Ronnie attribute him authorship to original thoughts

John Kennedy was the first president to use " ... a rising tide lifts all boats ..."

TommyJack writes:

vols4ever: And Sean LeMass said it before JFK

KnoxVol_in_TX writes:

Does anyone else think that our in-bounds and full court pressure has been down a bit lately. I know that we have had instances where we've been burned, but I think that the net result is in our favor.

I say we just go in there and play the same style ball as we did the first game. Plus...no one said Pearl cant walk down the sideline...the coach's box is still in the same spot.

TommyJack writes:

General: Don't encourage him, he can go longer with ease. Just kiddin, Rev.

KnoxVol_in_TX writes:

I have not had definitive confirmation, no. But it stands to reason that the coach in any other arena/stadium can advance down a certain point along the scorer's table. Since this is still where player's go to sub...I dont see why he wouldnt be allowed.

Still, I dont see why Vandy can adjust something as standard as bench placement. Ridiculous.

murrayvol writes:

pauln500: What the hell are you talking about? "Just ask Frank, Bill, et al who got caught in their trap." Oh those nasty old succubuses out there spinning their evil webs to capture the unsuspecting male of the species. Get freakin' serious!! You get caught because you want to get caught and Bruce will "get caught" when he's damn good and ready. And I don't think he's ready yet.

Titan writes:

My fear tonight is that Vandy shoots about 100 free throws and we shoot 10. Don't laugh, I've been to too many UT - Vandy games in Nashville. It can happen and does. I believe during one of Kentucky's really good teams, Vandy shot 52 and Kentucky shot 4. Vandy coaches, fans, and players explained that Vandy "played smart defense." Yeah, right. And Vandy, as opposed to Memphis, will HIT their free throws. It would not surprise me to see us outscore them by 10 - 15 from the field and lose by about the same amount. I'd also say the odds are better than 50/50 that BP gets a T tonight. I just hope and pray that showboat Ted Valentine is not one of the refs. If he is, he will play to the crowd and it could get really ugly. (Remember his recent T on JP?) I used to always go to the games down here but I always left mad and swore to never return (although I usually do). Can anyone remember Tyrone Beaman and Phil Cox about 20 years ago? It was a charge that night and it's still a charge today but Cox shot free throws and beat us. Go VOLS - make me proud to go to work in Nashville tomorrow morning.

bmaples writes:

Oh my goodness -- you had to bring up the Beaman-Cox debacle. I remember that! Sure hope we don't have the same crazy calls tonight.

Titan writes:

Well ten minutes in and regrettably my BP gets a T prediction comes true. I do think that the officiating evened out a bit after that although Stallings got in his minute of griping at the end of the half. Thankfully, Vandy has been much poorer than usual shooting free throws. We took their best punch and weathered the storm. Finally a Vandy player that knows how to tackle a UT player - even though Tyler was lying on the floor and calling timeout. And that wasn't a foul why? I think we're in good shape - need to get Ogilvy his fourth foul early in second.

jckrell writes:

Boy you guys didn't get many moments to savor did you.

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