From the Darkest Just Before The Dawn Department, this optimistic bulletin:
The worst is over for Tennessee basketball.
The worst of the worst came Tuesday night, scoring 44 points and shooting 28 percent at Rupp Arena against No. 1 Kentucky.
The 69-44 loss was a low point for Cuonzo Martin's first season, but it signaled a passage of sorts.
Tennessee's SEC schedule was front-loaded with difficult assignments. The Vols have faced Kentucky twice. A team can take only so much rejection and Anthony Davis lives to reject.
Furthermore, three of UT's toughest road games are in the rearview mirror — Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
The Vols are 2-5 in league play, which on opening day I would have projected as close to a best-case scenario. UT was, after all, picked to finish 11th or 12th in the SEC standings.
Nine games remain. While there is no such thing as a sure thing for a team with the Vols' limitations, there is opportunity to make headway.
It's not so much who as when and where.
The important thing to know is Tennessee's next game is Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena. The opponent, incidentally, is Georgia.
The point is that Saturdays at TBA have been a safe port in the storm for the Vols and their fans.
Since the Dec. 10 loss to Austin Peay, Tennessee has beaten UNC Asheville, Florida, Connecticut and Auburn on Saturday at home. The Vols also played strong in their only Saturday home loss, 65-62 to Kentucky.
After Georgia comes another home game, South Carolina. In other words, a chance for a breakthrough midweek win.
All told, there are four games remaining against the three teams at the bottom of the standings, South Carolina, Georgia and LSU.
Home games against Ole Miss and Arkansas are winnable. The Razorbacks may be (40 minutes of) hell on wheels at home but they've yet to win a road game.
Neither has Tennessee. The Vols gagged at Georgia, but were facing long odds in Starkville, Nashville or Lexington. They
have four remaining chances: Florida, Alabama, LSU and South Carolina.
There might be a road win in there or there might not. In any case, none of those trips will be as daunting as what the Vols faced Tuesday night in Rupp.
A team struggling to make shots ran into arguably the best defensive team in the nation. It wasn't pretty.
Effort wasn't a problem. Tennessee never quit. The Vols simply dribbled into the proverbial buzzsaw when the Wildcats made their first 11 shots.
After that, Kentucky shot only 37 percent. But UT was too offensively out of sync to make up any ground.
It wasn't a fluke, either. Getting his perimeter guys to make baskets has become an ongoing issue for Martin.
"Your starters have to bring something to the table,'' he said.
Martin has gotten his guys to buy into the defensive commitment he wanted. It appears their offensive confidence has suffered in the bargain, though.
Now he has to convince them that they can find the energy to be productive at both ends of the court simultaneously. That's what he learned to do at Purdue.
If they can master that mission, a kinder, gentler schedule offers possibilities.
Mike Strange may be reached at strangem//twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange