Pearl’s first Vol squad rolled into Austin on Dec. 17, 2005 and rolled out with a 95-78 upset of the sixth-ranked Texas Longhorns. The 2014-15 Vols hope to give Tyndall his first signature win when they host No. 15 Butler (8-1) Sunday at 2 in Thompson-Boling Arena.
So, how important is a signature win? It can be huge. The momentum generated by beating Texas in 2005 helped Pearl’s Vols win 13 of their next 15 games and soar to a No. 8 national ranking.
Certainly, the current Tennessee team could use that kind of lift. Fan enthusiasm is lagging. That’s due in part to preseason polls listing the Vols 13th among 14 SEC teams, in part to a sluggish 3-3 start and in large part to an NCAA investigation of Tyndall stemming from alleged rules violations while at Southern Miss.
A big win against a quality program like Butler could boost the fans’ enthusiasm, boost the players’ confidence and – at least temporarily – dissipate the NCAA cloud.
“Obviously, Butler being a team that’s ranked 15th in the country right now, (winning) would be big for our confidence,” Tyndall said. “It would be exciting for our fans, exciting for our program, particularly when everyone knows how young we are and where we’re picked. It’d be a great win for our program this early in the season.”
Junior guard Kevin Punter conceded that beating a reputable program like Butler “would be great,” adding: “A lot of people didn’t even expect us to win the Kansas State game (last Saturday), so I’m pretty sure it would be big for us to knock off a 15th-ranked team. They’ve got us picked second-to-last (in the SEC), and I’m sure it would surprise some people.”
Asked what beating a top-15 team might mean to Tennessee’s confidence, Punter replied: “It would go through the roof.”
Junior forward Derek Reese agreed that beating a team the caliber of Butler would be a significant step for Tyndall and his program.
“It would be huge,” Reese said. “Everyone put us in the lower half of the SEC (in preseason polls) but we’re not really thinking about that – like we have to prove ‘em wrong. Our mentality is just to go out there and play the best we can.”
Beating Butler will be no simple task. The return of Roosevelt Jones, who missed 2013-14 due to injury, has the Bulldogs rolling. They already boast victories against such big-name programs as North Carolina and Georgetown.
“The kid that was hurt a year ago and redshirted is a fantastic player,” Tyndall said of Jones. “He’s certainly made a difference in their team. They’re well coached. They’re the same team from year to year with different faces but the same type of guys. They’re disciplined. They’re much more physical than you would think when you look at them. They’ve beat great teams already. They’re certainly a top-15 team.”
GAME NOTES: The Bulldogs are led by interim head coach Chris Holtman, who was head coach at Gardner-Webb from 2010-13. Holtman is filling in for second-year Butler head coach Brandon Miller, who was granted a medical leave of absence in early October…. The Bulldogs lead the Big East in scoring defense (54.2 points per game), scoring margin (+20.0) and 3-point field-goal defense (25.3 percent). They rank second in turnover margin (+5.89)…. Butler is led in scoring by junior guard Kellen Dunham, who averages 11.1 points per game and shoots a sizzling 47.7 percent from 3-point range…. Butler leads the all-time series with Tennessee 2-1, dating to 1958. The Vols won the most recent meeting 76-71 (overtime) in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament in Birmingham…. Tennessee and Butler are among 13 programs to make at least four NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances in the last eight seasons.... The game will be aired by ESPNU.