You probably can guess what’s left on the list as the Lady Vols begin play in the conference tournament this afternoon at Gwinnett Arena.
Win the conference tournament.
Make the Final Four.
Win the national championship.
The circumstances might have changed drastically since UT’s last national championship; since the last season, in fact. And objective observers might view the program quite differently than when it contended for national titles on a regular basis.
But for the team itself, not enough time has passed to lower the towering expectations set by former coach Pat Summitt.
The program’s standards are eight national championships and 22 Final Fours in the making. They override something as trivial as preseason predictions.
No wonder the current players scoffed at such predictions, which placed them as low as fifth in the SEC.
So what if the Lady Vols haven’t been to a Final Four since 2008 — or that they lost all five starters from last season, or that Summitt was forced to retire because of illness. This team was miscast in an underdog role.
It includes five McDonald’s All-Americans and three Gatorade state players of the year. It includes players who contributed to nine high school state championships.
They didn’t come to UT to rebuild. Playing for the Lady Vols is supposed to be maintenance work. You maintain what your predecessors built.
At least, that’s the traditional view, which once was shared by program insiders and outsiders alike.
But this team already has over-achieved without dipping a toe in post-season waters. Why else do you think first-year coach Holly Warlick was honored Tuesday as the SEC coach of the year?
You don’t win that award with maintenance work. You win it because your team exceeded expectations.
In the worst postseason scenario, Tennessee won’t finish the season with more than eight losses. Last season’s veteran team lost nine; the 2008-09 team lost 11.
Moreover, this team’s 23-6 record has been accomplished in spite of a series of injuries that have made the announcement of each starting lineup eventful.
The status of center Isabelle Harrison for the SEC tournament is in doubt. She didn’t play in the regular-season finale because of a knee injury.
Such uncertainty reminds you that, for all this team has achieved, it’s still fragile.
You saw that in an 80-63 loss in February to a pedestrian Missouri team that it beat by 45 points a month earlier in Knoxville.
You saw that again last Sunday when the Lady Vols came undone against
Kentucky, which had the players and system to expose UT’s lack of experienced depth.
Games like that discourage the usual assumptions about Lady Vols basketball.
You can’t assume they will win a game, much less a championship, in the SEC tournament. Nor can you assume they will win first- and second-round games on their home floor in the NCAA tournament.
But that’s an outsider’s perspective.
On the inside, I doubt anyone is ready to revise the preseason checklist.