Sunday, March 16, 2008
Thank you Vols for the Best Year in Memory
I have to admit, when i first started doing this blog, I looked forward to writing and updating it often. I have not had that same passion lately. I have struggled with some health issues, and have made some life changing decisions that has changed my list of priorities. I feel like I need to at least spend a few minutes on "Selection Sunday" to look back on the season that is over now, and we await to see if what we accomplished this year is enough to give us a number one seed.
I don't think anyone would have said they would be satisfied with anything less than what we accomplished this year. Maybe a little more, would have liked an SEC tourney title, but we did win the regular season crown, so I guess that is to be commended.
The first game of note would be the third week of the season. We played in the Legends Classic to start the year and on November the 23rd the Mountaineers of West Virginia would be the first victims of the Vols. A two point win would send the Orange Clad good guys to a match up with the Longhorns of Texas. Tennessee beat Kevin Durrant and the Texas team the previous December, so they were hungry for revenge. And indeed did just that. An ugly loss, nineteen points separated the Longhorns from the good guys. This would be the first and only loss for quite some time. Along the way the Vols would register wins against Xavier, Gonzaga, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Ohio State before suffering a heart breaking loss to bitter rival Kentucky.
Now there are a couple of things I need to say about the season up until this point. First no player averaged over thirty minutes. We were playing at least ten players getting at least ten minutes a piece. Some games we were having twelve players getting time. We lost Duke Crews due to a heart condition, then heard the good news that he would be coming back. Around the end of December, we also gained the services if J.P. Prince, the transfer out of Arizona. Prince a native of Memphis,TN looks to play a big role in the future as a Guard/forward. Newcomer Tyler Smith has already cemented himself as the new "Glue" man. A force in the pain, he is also the coach/motivator on the floor. A role Dane Bradshaw filled last year, Tyler is making his year, the first one without his father, something special. Up to this point, the loss to Kentucky, Chris Lofton has been a non-factor. Shooting woes seem to have him in a fog. Message boards were full of posts calling for the most well known guard in the country to be benched. Something clicked on the floor at Rupp Arena. Something seem to flip the switch in his head. From that point on we started to to see the Lofton we all know began to show up and take more shots and make a difference in the outcome of the games.
A team known for its spurts went on another one after the January 22 loss to the Wildcats. Racking up Conference wins against Georgia(2), Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida, LSU, Arkansas, and Auburn, before it faced the toughest and most anticipated match up of the season.
When I looked at the schedule back in August, there was one game that I circled to look forward to. That was the February 23rd match up in the FedEx Forum against the Tigers of Memphis. A few weeks earlier Memphis had taken over the number one ranking. After the Loss to Kentucky the Vols dropped from their number three rank. But a couple of losses helped the Vols move up to the number two spot, on February the 18th, to set up the dream scenario of number one versus number two. A game that was scheduled early in the season as a Game day location for ESPN. With the match up now the most important game in the country it was destined for greatness. Or was it? Many an opponent claimed that no one outside of the state of Tennessee cared about the game. It became the Most watched regular season College Basketball game EVER!!! I was lucky enough to be a part of it. It was an atmosphere that can only be compared to an LSU football game. Very emotional, very VOLitile and very intimidating for the small number of Vol fans that made it into the Arena. But the outcome was sweet. We left Memphis with a victory, an end to Memphis' home winning streak, and the Unanimous Number One Ranking. For the first time, we were the King of the Mountain.
It would be short lived, a trap game against Vandy awaited us in Nashville. And it was just that, it would hand the #1 Vols their third loss of the season. The good guys finished strong with wins over Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina to claim their first outright Conference Championship in forty-one years. It happened on Senior Day in Knoxville when we had to say goodbye to three outstanding seniors. Chris Lofton, JuJuan Smith, and Jordan Howell. Chris will leave with the SEC all-time three point record, JuJuan will leave as probably the most under appreciated shooter in the conference. For the majority of the season Smith was the leading scorer on this Tennessee team. Jordan was the starting point guard for the better part of the season. These three guys will be missed heavily. Chris currently is still chasing the NCAA all time three point record, he sits in third right now. With six games remaining. I said it, six games. We lost last year by one point to an Ohio State team that went to the championship game against a Florida Team that we have owned over the past three years. This team can go all the way, will be a great finish to a Monumental Year by the BasketVols. A SEC title, ranked number one in the country, twenty nine regular season wins, thirty one counting the two exhibition wins. A lot to be proud of, a lot to build off of. Has to be the highest moment in Tennessee sports for me. To see this team go from so low, bring in a GREAT man in Bruce Pearl, and Climbing to the top of the mountain. A championship on April the 7th is the only thing to make this season better.
Thank you Bruce for simply being BRUUUUUUCE.
Thank you Chris for four years that can be summed up in two words, Class, Clutch.
Thank you JuJuan for not giving up, not quitting, and bringing us another great season.
Thank you Jordan for being a "Role Player" and coming off the bench to give "Quality Minutes"
Thank you Tyler Smith for coming in and taking ownership of this team and making it special.
Thank you J.P., Ramar, Wayne, Duke, Josh, Brian, Ryan, and Steven for giving us the best season in memory, milestones that will not be easily surpassed.
Here is my favorite memory, the Pre-Game speech to us fans in Memphis before the BIG GAME!!!