CHARLOTTSVILLE, Va. — Five days after leaving our nation's capital as a 37-36 loser at Georgetown, Tennessee men's basketball will return to the mid-Atlantic on Wednesday.
A date with Virginia, a 5-2 team from the Atlantic Coast Conference, is scheduled.
During Monday's pre-practice media availability back in Knoxville, UT coach Cuonzo Martin aptly reminded all that the Vols are "six games into a long season."
That said, though, if Tennessee (4-2) returns to campus late Wednesday with another loss stowed in its luggage, alarms will toll. Early-season losses still count at the end of the year.
Remember Austin Peay?
Swinging home for a few days of classes and practices early this week, the Vols are looking to find a key ingredient: a leader. Forward Jeronne Maymon remains out of the lineup and it's hard to determine whether UT misses him more as a leader or as a player.
Either way, his return isn't imminent and that makes for a predicament.
Scoring 36 points on 15 made field goals at Georgetown only magnified his void.
Junior guard Jordan McRae told the News Sentinel by phone on Monday that the Vols "need someone to step up and lead." He said he's ready to do so and added that some of his teammates are starting to take that step.
The Georgetown loss said otherwise.
Without Maymon, UT's offensive leadership duties fall by default to point guard Trae Golden. Relying on Golden to score, though, is a double-edged sword. The Vols are at their best when the junior is in pilot mode, not gunner mode.
Then there's Jarnell Stokes. No one misses Maymon more than the sophomore power forward. He took three shots in 29 minutes against the Hoyas. Most of that time was spent entangled by double-teaming defenders, a theme of November's Maymon-less action.
It's been proved that relying on Stokes to be the get-out-of-his-way offensive leader is easier said than done.
What about Skylar McBee, you might ask. The senior shooting guard has never scored more than 20 points in a game. If he's the top-flight catalyst, there are problems.
Then there is McRae.
"I believe I can be the leader as long as I don't settle for 3-pointers," he said. "I think you'll see that as the season goes on."
If UT fans aren't confident McRae can be the leader and gung-ho scorer the Vols lack, he certainly doesn't share the sentiment. He's scored 15 or more points six times in his career, but has yet to do so this season.
The average sits at 9.5 points per game this year.
McRae said he's the man for the job because he plans to stop relying on 3-point shots (he went 1-for-6 against Georgetown). Instead he intends to dribble, penetrate and "go dunk the ball."
That's music to the ears of a beleaguered offense, but doing and saying are two different things. McRae promised to be on the attack at UVA's John Paul Jones Arena on Wednesday.
That'd be a good thing. The Vols are hoping that Virginia is indeed for lovers and offers a much-needed hug for the offense.
Well, that, and a leader.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn