Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Don't Pay Attention To Exhibition Results, RE: Tennessee

By now everybody reading this blog has probably heard that Tennessee went down to Division II Indianapolis 79-64 in an exhibition game last night. The fact is, these results don't matter. I empahsized this last season when Syracuse lost to D-II Le Moyne, and they proceeded to earn a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before losing in the Sweet 16. And just a couple of years before that Michigan State lost to D-II Grand Valley State in an exhibition, and proceeded to stay in the Top 20 in the polls all season long, eventually losing in the Sweet 16.

The fact is that teams don't play exhibition games like they do regular season games. In the case of Syracuse last season, Jim Boeheim actually played some man-to-man defense, even though dinosaurs roamed the earth the last time Syracuse played any man-to-man defense during the regular season. In the case of Tennessee it was more subtle - Bruce Pearl stayed with his young players, often going with a lineup that consisted of zero starters. And they were facing a team playing an uptempo full court press, nearly identical to the one Tennessee runs (not a surprise since Indianapolis's coach played for Pearl and views him as a mentor). Teams that press a lot tend to be vulnerable to the press (hence why Mike Anderson's first couple of teams at Missouri struggled despite forcing so many turnovers when they were on defense), particularly when it's an exhibition and kids just don't have their hearts in the game. Tennessee players were getting frustrated and focused their energy into complaining to the refs rather than taking care of the ball. It was the perfect storm for an upset to a physically inferior D-II team.

That said, I don't think Tennessee is in the place that Syracuse was last season, or Michigan State was three years ago. They have a lot of off-the-court issues hanging over the program, and it will be key to see how the team responds to this set back. It could be a motivator, with the kids hanging on Pearl's every word to try to atone for this disaster. But it could also be the beginning of a total meltdown that ends with an unemployed Bruce Pearl.

So it will be the reaction of the players to this defeat, rather than the defeat itself, which will be the important outcome here.

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