It’s time for the Vols to put up or shut up

Photo Credit: John Monroe / Orange & White Report

Tennessee ended the 2018-19 regular season on a sour note, dropping their season finale to Bruce Pearl and the long-ball Tigers inside Auburn Arena. For much of the season, the Vols remained in the top 5, and never fell out of the top 10. As of March 11, 2019, Tennessee comes in at No. 8 in the AP Poll.

However, regardless of the 3-spot drop and tough loss at the hands of their former head ball coach, it should not be forgotten how great of a season it has been to this point. A 27-4 (15-3) record sounds pretty damn good to me.

But as fun as it’s been, it’s time to scrap all of that and throw it out the window. Forget the rankings and polls. Forget the regular season results. March Madness is upon us, and it’s survive and advance. The lights are on, and it’s time to put up or shut up. Period.

Although many consider the NCAA Tournament to be the start of March Madness, I beg to differ. Conference tournaments are where the madness kicks off, with teams jockeying for seeding, or just to get an invitation to the dance at all. So, this is where it all truly begins.

And for Tennessee, it starts this Friday. The Vols are the 3-seed in the SEC Tournament, and they await the winner of No. 6-seed Mississippi State vs No. 11-seed Texas A&M. Slated for a 9 p.m. ET tip, Rick Barnes’ squad, assuming things play out as they should, will face the Bulldogs of Starkville for a second time.

Tennessee defeated MSU on Senior Night last Wednesday, 71-54. And if you remember last season, the Vols faced State in the second-to-last game of the season, only to face them again in the SEC tourney quarterfinals. Strange things can always happen in college basketball but get ready for a little deja vu.

Assuming UT can get past the Bulldogs, they then will likely have a meeting with arch rival Kentucky in the semifinals. This is hypothetical talk, but on paper, this is what we can expect to see happen. Get past UK, and the Vols will move on to the SEC Tournament Championship game, where they will get a chance to avenge their loss in the title match from last season.

As of now, Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm each have Tennessee as a 2-seed. If the Vols emerge from the SEC tourney as champs, they will probably re-claim a 1-seed, giving them a very manageable path to the Sweet Sixteen. Although much of Vol Nation wants a Final Four run and nothing less, admittedly, a return to the Elite Eight would be a nice accomplishment. SEC Tournament Champs and an Elite Eight appearance? Sign me up. But, I would be lying to you if I told you that I wouldn’t be bummed if the Vols didn’t get to cut down the nets, be regional champs, and be one of the last four teams standing a few weeks from now. They’re a championship caliber team and not seriously competing for a championship would be disappointing.

Look, I know I just spent the last four paragraphs talking about hypothetical scenarios, but my point is this: It’s win or go home now. There’s no more “next game” or “next week.” There’s no more AP Poll or watching the league standings. There is winning and there is losing and one leads to glory while the other leads to your couch at home.

This is what we’ve all been waiting for. Here we go.