Following lopsided road losses at Ole Miss (81-65) and Kentucky (77-58), the Vols, 16-10 overall land 7-5 in SEC play, seemed ready to be buried. Their own fans had the shovels out, ready to complete the task. Since then, however, the Big Orange has resurrected itself – beating Mississippi State 81-76, winning at Florida 79-75 and rolling at South Carolina 86-70.
Alabama was in even worse shape two weeks ago. Assuming the team following the resignation of Mark Gottfried, interim coach Philip Pearson lost five of his first six games. He got the Tide turned, however, by beating Mississippi State 87-85 in overtime, blasting Arkansas 88-67 and hammering Ole Miss 90-69 at Oxford before losing to Auburn 77-73 Tuesday night.
Fans and media types may have been surprised by the sudden turns made by Tennessee and Alabama, but Pearson was not.
"I think basketball's a lot different than some other sports," he said recently. "I think things can turn rather quickly, so I'm hoping this (Auburn loss) will be a little bit of a stub-your-toe type of thing that we can bounce back from and get back to how we were playing the previous four or five games."
Asked why basketball seasons seem to turn more quickly and dramatically than seasons in other sports, Pearson replied:
"I think it's matchups ... the 3-point shot ... if one or two players on a team get hot, they can kind of carry you. Also, I think the reason things may turn so quickly is that it's so hard when you go on the road. If you've had two or three good wins in a row, then all of a sudden, bam, you've got a tough road game, things can turn.
"I think it's different from football. You play two games a week, and you're getting ready over and over and over. You've got to be good off a win and hope you're better off a loss."
Another reason Tennessee and Alabama have turned things around in the past few weeks is improved work on the backboards. Bama leads the SEC in rebounds at 39.7 per game. Tennessee has outrebounded its last three foes 114-87, including a 44-22 backboard beating at Columbia Thursday.