Want a mathematical and athletic absurdity?
The number is 74. It's the total points scored by Tennessee men's basketball in narrow non-conference losses to Georgetown and Virginia.
The Vols' offense matched or exceeded that number in each of their last two games. If anyone in orange were asked if that would produce wins over Memphis and Ole Miss for the defensive-minded Vols, he or she would resolutely say yes.
"Anytime you score 80 and 74, in most cases, you've won the game," said UT coach Cuonzo Martin, citing the Vols' tallies the last two games.
And yet Tennessee is on a two-game losing streak.
Oh defense, where art thou?
"Somewhere along the way, our guys subconsciously lost sight of the importance of defense," Martin said Friday. "You start scoring, you're going up and down, all the sudden you're not defending at the level you need to defend at."
Against both Memphis and Ole Miss, the Vols fell into an inviting trap. The Tigers and Rebels play a similar style: run, shoot, score, repeat. For UT, a team that languished through some historically bad offensive outings earlier in the year, the frenetic pace and high-scoring energy was ice cream on a summer day.
But then the final horn sounded. Two games. Lots of points. Two losses. The ice cream melted, leaving the Vols 8-5 overall and 0-1 in SEC play.
"For us, it's really a matter of playing defense the way we know how to play it," Martin said. "It's real simple. I think we in some ways got caught up in a scoring frenzy — going up and down, up and down. You saw the results. Our blueprint always has to be tough, hard-nosed defense."
Thus, Tennessee is hitting the reset button today in Tuscaloosa. The Vols will face Alabama (8-6, 0-1) at Coleman Coliseum in a subtly important early SEC game (TV: ESPN2, 1 p.m. ET) against a Tide team with six losses in its last eight games.
Already saddled with one league loss, UT is roving through a key stretch. A date at Kentucky's Rupp Arena follows today's visit to Bama. Then comes a home game against Mississippi State, a trip to Ole Miss and another game against Alabama, this time at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The meeting with Mississippi State is the only sure win. If disaster strikes and UT drops all those other losable games, the Vols will be starting down a 9-10 record and a 1-5 start in SEC play.
That's hypothetical, though.
Martin and the Vols would prefer to stay in the present. Still looking for their first win of 2013, they could use the good vibes.
"We need a really good performance from the team, one with energy and enthusiasm," Martin said.
The coach needn't worry about another track meet soaring into the 80s or 90s.
Alabama averages 65.7 points per game and holds opponents to 60.6. Tennessee is nearly identical, scoring 65.2 and allowing 61.3.
The Tide's two main advantages are the presence of junior Trevor Releford (16.4 ppg), who Martin calls "one of the best point guards in the country," and the home court. UT lost in Tuscaloosa, 62-50, last year and is 17-42 all-time on the road against Alabama.
For the Vols, a third straight loss is a very real possibility.
The best way to avoid it?
A counter defense.
"I think those last two games reminded our guys of the importance of defense," Martin said, adding, "This is a tough stretch for us, so we've got to be locked in, ready to go. We've got to come out of the gates ready to compete."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn