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A Fitting Finish?
Posted: Thursday, March 2nd, 2006, 1:04 PM
by Beano
What distinguishes a great movie from a good one is an appropriate ending. It’s Henry Gondorf and Johnny Hooker rising to one elbow wiping fake blood from their smiling mouths as Doyle Lonnegan is ushered from the betting parlor minus his money in The Sting. It’s Andy Defresne and “Red” Redding reuniting in Zihuatanejo after Red’s parole and Andy crawling to freedom “though 500 yards of @#*^&& smelling foulness I can’t even imagine” in Shawshank Redemption. Call me idealistic but I believe this Tennessee Basketball team deserves just such an ending. Their resurrection of the Tennessee Men’s basketball program and the enthusiasm of their fans has been nothing short of amazing. After 26 games however their marks are wise to the con and it will take a crawl-through-the-sewer type determination to close it out right.

What in my opinion is a fitting conclusion for this team and season? A well played appearance in the SEC semifinals and advancing to the Sweet-16 of the NCAA Tournament. If the season ended today the Vols would face the winner of Georgia (E-5) and Auburn (W-4) on Friday (March 10) afternoon in Nashville. A loss in that contest while allowing a full weeks rest before their first NCAA tilt would be disappointing. Assuming that the Vols are no worse than a 4-seed the road to the Sweet-16 would be victories over a 13 seed ( equivalent of #49-52 ranked opponents) and a 5 (#17-20 ranked opponent). Though admittedly when the season started I would have thought those to be Lakeshore-like expectations I now not only believe them to be obtainable, I EXPECT them to happen. This team’s moxie has made me either a believer or a loon take your pick.

In order for the Vols to author an ending that makes this season’s video a must-have blockbuster several things must occur:

1 Better on-the-ball defense in the half-court

This teams post defense inadequacies are obvious to the most casual fan. Since Dane Bradshaw will not grow six inches in the next week, Major Wingate hasn’t “decided” to “dominate on both ends of the court” and Ryan Childress is still too green the Vols must compensate by making the entry pass harder to accomplish. The ease with which Rajon Rondo drove or dished last night was inexcusable and must be addressed with improved communication and/or effort. Post players are going to get theirs. Guards we are equipped to slow down

2. Get to the free throw line in the 2nd half of games and convert when you do

Through the first 11 games of the SEC season Tennessee shot 150 free throws and made 109 in the second half of those contests. That’s an average of 13.6 second half free throws per game with a success rate of 73%. In the last four games the Vols have shot only 28 second half free throws (7/game) and converted only 15 (54%).

3. Find Chris Lofton more shots

This is a staff, team, and personal problem. The staff needs to run more plays designed for Chris, his teammates need to set more effective picks, and Chris
needs to work harder without the ball and take it to the rack when the opportunity presents itself.

4. CJ needs to shoot less

Watson IMO is at his best when he is in a pass-first, shoot-second, frame of mind. Through the first 11 games he took more than 10 shots five times. It has occurred three times in the last four games all of which were losses.

5. Continue to play with the sense of urgency that has made them special.

I have no doubts this will be accomplished. This is a team that has played with a high intensity level for more minutes than any Tennessee team since the early Devoe years. Effort has not been a problem.

The regular season has nothing left to give. The East #1 seed is earned, a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA seems a likely guarantee, and the home schedule is completed. It’s now all about the last act, the finale. If there’s any justice we’ll get the ball to Jimmy Chitwood er I mean Chris Lofton with a good look at crunch time. Will it be a good season or a great one? I believe this team deserves the latter.

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