The sky isn't falling

Big Orange basketball fans are discouraged about Tennessee's 77-75 first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Oklahoma State, but the sky isn't falling. It's just a little cloudy right now.

Sure, the Vols lost 13 games one year after losing only five. Sure, they failed to meet preseason projections of another SEC championship. Sure, they lost five times at Thompson-Boling Arena after going unbeaten at home the two previous seasons. Sure, they suffered two lopsided losses to the hated Kentucky Wildcats.

Still, going 21-13, winning the SEC East and making The Dance for the fourth year in a row isn't exactly cause for alarm.

Remember Wade Houston's 1993-94 team going 5-22? Remember Kevin O'Neill's 1994-95 team scoring in the 40s seven times? Remember Jerry Green's 1998-99 team getting hammered 81-51 by Southwest Missouri State in the NCAA Tournament? Remember four years of BuzzBall producing a 61-59 record and zero NCAA Tournament bids?

Well ... so do I. Those events were disgusting. This season was just mildly disappointing. That's why I'm cautiously optimistic Bruce Pearl can get the Vols back on the fast track in 2009-10. Here's how:

- Go back to your roots, Bruce. You always won big by playing uptempo offense and fullcourt defense. If some of your better athletes won't play defense, let them watch the action from courtside. Fans loved the blistering pace you played in previous years, and their vocal support helped fuel a 37-game home-court winning streak. If you increase the pace, they'll increase the volume.

- Find a point guard who can manufacture shots for his teammates. Bobby Maze and Josh Tabb don't make a lot of turnovers but they don't make a lot of assists, either. I understand you're looking at three junior college point guards, which is a wonderful idea.

- Find a post presence. If Wayne Chism insists on being a 6-foot-9 wing guard, stick Emmanuel Negedu in the post. He seems quite willing to do the dirty work on the inside.

- Find some more shooters. Your team went from hitting 35.7 percent from 3-point range in 2007-08 to hitting an SEC-worst 31.5 percent in 2008-09. Height and athleticism are nice but the game still comes down to putting the ball in the basket more often than your opponent.

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