The Tennessee men's basketball team has fallen below .500 for the first time in 6 ½ years, when the Vols finished 14-17 under former coach Buzz Peterson.
New UT coach Cuonzo Martin knows the numbers are what they are, with the Vols sitting at 3-4 heading in Saturday's home game with Austin Peay.
But Martin's not hitting any panic buttons or changing the game plan.
"I thought it was great for our guys to go against some of the best teams in the country,'' said Martin, whose Vols lost to top 10-ranked teams Duke and Memphis prior to Saturday's 61-56 defeat against No. 17 Pittsburgh (7-1) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"In the first seven games, to play teams of this caliber, it's good for our guys because you have to learn how to move forward.''
Indeed, Martin said in the days leading up to the season that his young team needed to "go through the fire'' before it could grow into the type of unit he envisions.
The Vols' four losses have come to teams with a cumulative 24-6 record, and the average margin of defeat to the three ranked opponents is 5.7 points.
But neither Martin, nor his players, are into consolation prizes nor excuses.
"We're in that next phase, people have seen us play well at times, so the cat's out of the bag,'' Martin said. "We have to play hard and with energy for 40 minutes, every time out.
"It's about having to get better every day.''
That's not coach speak. The obvious improvement from newcomers Wes Washpun, Josh Richardson, Dwight Miller and Yemi Makanjuola makes it clear that playing time is on the line for the incumbents.
Asked why senior Renaldo Woolridge didn't play against Pittsburgh, Martin mentioned the steady improvement Makanjuola has made at the post and the strong practices Miller has been having.
UT junior center Kenny Hall might have found his game in the nick of time. Hall responded to the push for playing time with eight points and a career-high 12 rebounds — and just two fouls — in his 27 minutes against the Panthers.
Vols senior Cameron Tatum is another example of a player taking the next step, recording the first double-double of his career with 13 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday.
Tatum indicated he's playing with a sense of urgency.
"These are the types of games we've got to finish in order to become a good team,'' Tatum said. "That's what good teams do, they win the tight ballgames. We've got to find a way to start closing out.''
The Vols have shown comeback ability. UT trailed Memphis by 16 points before rallying to send the game into overtime in an eventual 99-97 double overtime loss in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
Pittsburgh was up eight points with 1:46 remaining in Saturday's game when the Vols rallied, ending up with the ball and a chance to tie or win in the final seconds.
"Everybody was in the huddle and everybody was comfortable,'' Tatum said. "Everybody still had high hopes, high spirits, and thought we're not losing this game.''
Martin promised UT fans that toughness would become a staple of the program, and his message has resonated with his players.
"We're a reflection of our coach, and our coach told us not to give up,'' Vols point guard Trae Golden said. "We're not going to quit — we're not quitters.
"This is a learning curve for us; we can't put our heads down. We're going to continue to work hard, and we're right there, we're going to bust through the wall.''
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32