TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Can we call a halt to the talk of bubbles and brackets?
Please. I don't want to hear a peep about RPI this week.
A four-game winning streak had ignited late-season NCAA tournament talk for those who orbit in the Tennessee basketball world.
A stretch, but, hey, fair enough. And certainly Saturday's visit to Alabama appeared winnable with the Crimson Tide's two leading scorers on indefinite suspension.
Still, to interject a team with UT's résumé into Big Dance speculation worked best looking through orange-colored lenses. It was going to take a February/March near-miracle to make the Vols relevant on Selection Sunday.
Bottom line, Tennessee had a ton to prove.
And Saturday in Coleman Coliseum it ran into another team with something to prove.
"Coach said the hungriest team hunts best," said UT junior Jeronne Maymon.
Short-handed Alabama called in the Foreign Legion and hunted up a 62-50 victory, a badly needed one, and deflated Tennessee's overinflated bubble.
Missing suspended top scorers JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, the Tide called on a pair of import 7-footers.
Moussa Gueye of Senegal blocked six shots, Carl Engstrom of Sweden had seven points and seven rebounds. Several native sons stepped it up as well.
"We're a team," said freshman Trevor Lacey, who scored 18 points. "We all have a piece of the pie."
It was a disappointing result for UT coach Cuonzo Martin, both the end product and how it came to be.
One week earlier, his team went into Gainesville and thoroughly beat No. 8 Florida at both ends of the floor to earn its first road win of the season.
Wednesday night, following another strong win over Arkansas in Knoxville, Martin was asked to anticipate going back on the road.
He said that if the Vols lost on the road from here on out, it wouldn't be because of their previous vulnerabilities. It wouldn't be, he said, pulling numbers out of the air, because they made 20 turnovers or went oh-for-15 from the 3-point line. It would be because they got beat by a better team.
Alabama was a better team for two hours Saturday. But Martin had to cringe when he looked at UT's box score:
The Vols made 17 turnovers and were 4-of-20 from the 3-point line. Ouch and ouch.
So if you were on the NCAA tourney selection committee and tuned in to evaluate the Vols and the Tide, forget all the stats. Throw out the RPI and the strength of schedule.
Just use the old standard, the eye test.
"Alabama did a good job protecting their home court," Martin said. "I told the team that the hungriest team is gonna find a way to win."
With 16:42 to play, either team was in shape to find a way. Alabama's previous 10-point lead was whittled to 34-33 on a Maymon free throw.
The following 11 minutes were a nightmare for the guys in orange. Alabama ran off an 18-2 spurt that was fueled with Tennessee turnovers.
Tide guard Andrew Steele ought to legally change his name to Steal. He had five.
Give the Tide credit for being assertive and creating some turnovers. But others were the result of being careless or passive.
Why would the Vols be careless or passive at this point in the season with so much on the line? Good question.
"It happens," said Trae Golden, who had six turnovers and only two assists. "I thought we were going to close it out and take the lead."
Alabama did the closing with its makeshift lineup that also was absent forward Nick Jacobs due to a root canal.
Much of the afternoon was a root canal for the Vols.
Jarnell Stokes played only three minutes in the first half after two quick fouls. Skylar McBee and Cameron Tatum were 0-for-6 twins shooting. Jordan McRae was 2-for-8, the only other perimeter player besides Golden with a field goal.
And so the Vols left the building 14-13 with four games to play before the SEC tournament.
"We're not thinking about the postseason right now," said Golden. "We were definitely thinking about Alabama and now we'll think about Ole Miss."
The NIT is still on the table if Tennessee can prove Saturday was a hiccup and take care of business this week, first against Ole Miss and then at South Carolina.
"We've got to continue to compete and play basketball," Martin said, "and not get caught up in the periphery."
Neither should anybody else. Not yet.
Run off four wins and then get back to me.