About this time a year ago, Tennessee was embarking on a skid into mid-major hell. The first false step was in Oakland, Mich.
Then Austin Peay — a 1-9 Austin Peay for heaven's sake — came into Thompson-Boling Arena and snatched a win. Next, it was on to Charleston for another come-uppance.
Seeing the Vols go slumming was not unprecedented. It had in fact been only one year earlier that Oakland and Charleston sandwiched Knoxville wins around a desultory UT loss at Charlotte.
So looking for a theme Monday night, I pounced on Tennessee's 77-50 throttling of the one and same Oakland Golden Grizzlies.
A two-year nightmare is over.
Presbyterian and Western Carolina, you've been given notice. The Vols have put their sneakers down. No more emasculating losses to the kind of leagues that generally get only one bid to the NCAA tournament.
Coach Cuonzo Martin wasn't willing to play along with my theme that UT had made a statement by sending Oakland packing with conviction.
He sticks to his guns. Every game is the same deal. Anybody can beat you.
"I truly believe that,'' Martin said. "Cal Poly won a game last night at UCLA.
"You've got to have a level of mental and physical toughness every night regardless of who the opponent is.''
Well, that's sort of my point. If 1-9 Austin Peay can beat you on your home court, anybody can beat you.
But teams like that haven't beaten Tennessee very often, not until the last two years, one of which was on Bruce Pearl's watch and the other Martin's debut.
I'm not talking about Butler or Gonzaga. They beat all comers. And certainly not the teams from the best mid-major league, the Missouri Valley Conference. They have beaten UT like clockwork.
Way back in 1993-94, Arkansas-Little Rock and Western Carolina won back-to-back in Thompson-Boling. Of course, everybody won here that year. The Vols finished 5-22.
Since then, Tennessee Tech beat Kevin O'Neill and Chattanooga helped Buzz Peterson pack.
But that's about it, until the barricades fell the past two Decembers and the ruffians came storming over.
Martin doesn't think players in the current climate let losses fester. So he wasn't playing the revenge card on Oakland.
"Speaking for myself,'' said senior Kenny Hall, who was a free throw shy of a double-double, "It was an important win for me for the fact they did beat us two years in a row.''
The Vols looked like they had sweet revenge in mind. They were up in Oakland's shorts from the get-go.
"They're a good team,'' said Hall. "It wasn't like we were taking 'em lightly.
"It's always important to defend your home court. It could be Austin Peay, it could be Kentucky.''
Or it could be Middle Tennessee State in an NIT game. That court did not get defended last March.
But it's a new season. The players are more in tune with their coach and the toughness he demands.
"Every game is not gonna be as good as tonight,'' said point guard Trae Golden, "but when a team comes into TBA, we have to ready to protect that court for ourselves and for our fans. So we take more pride in that than anything this year.''
There was definitely some home-court pride out there Monday night.