Tenn. Voters in AP Poll
The Tennessee men's basketball team has fallen out of the top 25 rankings for the first time since the end of the 2008-09 season.
The Tennessee men's basketball team lost its elite status as a top-25 team on Monday, falling out of both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches' polls.
The Vols (8-3) had a string of 26 consecutive polls ranked dating back to the 2009-10 preseason rankings.
"It's a reality check,'' UT senior point guard Melvin Goins said. "Since I've been here, we've been ranked, and this is disappointing. But at the same time, it brings a sense of hunger.''
The Vols' fall from their peak at No. 7 this season comes on the heels of three consecutive losses to unranked opponents: Oakland, Charlotte and Southern Cal.
UT's 66-65 win over Belmont last Thursday wasn't enough to keep the Vols in the rankings.
"The key to being a top-25 program is maintaining your position in the polls for long periods of time,'' coach Bruce Pearl said. "If you find yourself out, you work hard to try to get back in. There will be plenty of opportunities.''
For now, when three-year starter Scotty Hopson looks at the AP Top 25 he sees Memphis (9-2, No. 21) and Vanderbilt (9-2, No. 24) as the highest ranked teams in the state.
It doesn't sit well with Hopson.
"I'm looked at as a team leader, so I've got to do something to change that,'' Hopson said. "But this team has come back here with a mindset that we're going to do all we can.''
UT was forced to begin preparations for Wednesday's 7 p.m. game against UT Martin (4-9) with a skeleton crew.
Four players - Renaldo Woolridge, Jeronne Maymon, Kenny Hall and Tobias Harris - missed the Monday workout because of travel issues, and two others were out due to injury (Cameron Tatum, ribs) and an illness (Skylar McBee, flu).
Pearl said the travel issues were not the fault of any of the players involved, and he hopes they will be back for today's practice.
Tatum, injured in the first half of the win over Belmont when he tumbled over the bench and into a trash can, said he will try to return to today's contact practice.
McBee has a fever and remains questionable.
The Vols did get a lift Monday from the return of senior combo guard Josh Bone, who practiced for the first time since injuring his wrist in UT's exhibition win over Brevard on Nov. 3.
"It's a shot in the arm for the team,'' said Pearl, who plans to use Bone at the shooting guard and wing positions. "We'll see how Josh does and if he's cleared for (today's) contact practice. But it's good to have him back.''
UT senior center Brian Williams said he sensed more focus from his teammates, the drop out of the polls aside.
"It (ranking) is a number by our name, but obviously that means less highlights on (ESPN) SportsCenter,'' Williams said. "I'd rather be out now than at the end of the season.
"But our focus is on our next opponent, UT Martin, and we're taking it one game at a time,'' he said. "I believe we have top-25 talent, and we're a top-25 defense. We just need to get our offense going. The whole nation saw what we can do when we're on.''
Poll History: The Vols had a streak of being ranked in 32 consecutive polls come to an end in the 2008-2009 season. It happened after UT fell to 11-5 with losses in three of four games preceding the Jan. 19, 2009, poll. The losses were to unranked Kansas, Gonzaga and Kentucky.
The Vols remained unranked in the final eight polls before that season ended with an NCAA tournament first-round loss to Oklahoma State.
Tennessee's 21-13 record in 2008-2009 marked Pearl's worst record in his six-year coaching tenure in Knoxville, though the team made its first appearance in the SEC tournament championship game since 1991.
School Record: The school record for consecutive weeks ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 was from 1999 though the end of 2001, when former coach Jerry Green's teams were ranked in 35 consecutive polls.
Green's 2000-2001 team peaked at No. 4 before dropping out of the rankings after five consecutive losses.
RPI Rankings: Tennessee was No. 22 in Monday's RPI rankings, according to RealTimeRpi.com, and its schedule was rated as the fifth-toughest in the country.