Instead, Tyndall’s rookie year on The Hill has more closely resembled his rookie year of 2006-07 at Morehead State: Pegged 13th among 14 SEC teams in preseason, his 2014-15 Vols got off to a fast start before suffering a crash landing.
“When I took over at Morehead, it was a very similar situation: A team that was picked dead last in the league, and we were kind of in mid-season form early,” Tyndall recalled this week. “We started league play 6-2, then we lost nine in a row.”
Sound familiar? Tennessee started SEC play 4-1, with three of the wins on the road, but has lost nine of 11 heading into tonight’s game at LSU. Basically, the fall of the 2014-15 Vols can be traced to the same woe that caused the fall of the 2006-07 Eagles: More heart than ability.
“It happens,” Tyndall said, “because eventually that talent level is just too much to overcome.”
Tennessee’s talent level ranks among the three or four worst in the SEC. Still, Tyndall is confident he can upgrade the roster and show progress from Year 1 to Year 2, just as he did after going 12-18 in Year 1 at Morehead.
“Our second year we were .500,” he recalled of a 15-15 season. “Our third year we went to the NCAA Tournament and won a game.”
After posting a 20-16 record in Year 3 at Morehead, Tyndall really got things rolling in Year 4, posting a 24-11 overall record and a 15-3 Ohio Valley Conference mark. Year 5 saw the Eagles take another step, going 25-10 overall (13-5 OVC) and shocking Rick Pitino’s Louisville team in The Dance.
“By our fifth year, we went back to the NCAA Tournament and beat Louisville, so it's a progression; it's a thing that takes time,” Tyndall said. “It's about recruiting and building your team. It's about developing the players you have, and we're going to do the same thing here.”
The current Vols’ 14-14 overall record and 6-10 SEC mark is approximately what most fans expected in preseason. The problem is that Tennessee raised fans’ hopes to unrealistic levels by starting the season 12-5. That makes the recent tailspin all the more deflating. Tyndall understands.
“It can be frustrating,” he said. “I know when we lost nine in a row at Morehead no one was more miserable than me. Our kids were playing hard, and we are doing the same thing here. They're competing."
The only way to fix a depleted roster is to bring in players who are better than the guys they replace. Tyndall knows that upgrading the talent level in Knoxville is Job One, just as it was in his early years at Morehead.
"It's huge,” he said. “In our first recruiting class we added a few (spring signee) guys, like we did here. The second year we added five or six guys. One was Kenneth Faried, who was a (future) pro. One was Demonte Harper, who ended up being first-team all-league as a senior. One was a junior college guy, Leon Buchanan, who was first-team all-conference for two years.”
Though lacking elite talent and depth, Tennessee’s roster is not a total disaster. Sophomore wing Robert Hubbs was a five-star recruit two years ago whose development was slowed by a shoulder injury that virtually wiped out his freshman year. Freshman Detrick Mostella is a former top-100 recruit who has talent that will require some polishing. Freshman posts Willie Carmichael, Tariq Owens and Jabari McGhee need to add weight and experience. The cupboard isn’t completely bare and the future isn’t totally bleak.
“Obviously, you've got to have talent, you've got to have players,” Tyndall said. “But it's just as important to continue to develop the guys you have in your program, which is what we did there (Morehead) and what we're going to do here."
GAME NOTES: Tennessee brings a 14-14 overall record and a 6-10 SEC mark into tonight’s game. LSU is 21-8 and 10-6…. The Vols lead the all-time series 62-44. They are 25-24 in Baton Rouge after winning each of their last four visits…. LSU hammered the Vols earlier this season in Knoxville, rolling to a 47-20 halftime lead and romping 73-55…. Tiger sophomore Tim Quarterman is coming off a triple-double Saturday against Ole Miss – 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists…. LSU’s post tandem of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin averages a combined 32.3 points, 19 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game…. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Central (7 Eastern) with TV coverage provided by the SEC Network.