It’s pretty clear that Tennessee basketball is having a dramatically disappointing season. With the return of three elite players, the addition of two graduate transfers and the arrival of two five-star freshmen, this team started the year ranked in the top 15 and reached as high as No. 6. Now, though, they are unranked in both polls at 16-7 and 9-7 in the SEC.
Although they still are projected to make the NCAA Tournament, Rick Barnes’ team looks nothing like it was supposed to with bad losses to the Auburn Tigers, Kentucky Wildcats and Ole Miss Rebels. This isn’t the first UT team to suffer through this, though.
In this post, we’re going to break down teams that entered the year with a ton of hype, seemed to build on that hype early but then collapsed down the stretch of the season. These are Tennessee basketball’s five most underachieving teams in history that resemble the 2020-2021 Vols.
5. 2008-09 (Bruce Pearl)
21-13 (10-6); NCAA Tournament First Round
Coming off a regular season SEC Championship, making the Sweet 16, winning over 30 games and reaching No. 1 for the first time ever, the Vols were rolling. Entering his fourth year, Bruce Pearl added five-star Scottie Hopson and returned his key post players, J.P. Prince, Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith. UT opened the season ranked No. 14 in the AP Poll and was picked to win the SEC.
However, as the season progressed, it became clear this team couldn’t offset key losses. Chris Lofton, arguably the best player in school history, and JaJuan Smith, one of the other leading scorers in 2007-2008, both graduated. Starting point guard Ramar Smith was dismissed, as was backup power forward Duke Crews. Backup point guard Jordan Howell also graduated.
Non-conference losses to the Temple Owls, Kansas Jayhawks and Gonzaga Bulldogs a second time, their first home loss in over two years, knocked them out of the top 25 by Jan. 12. They also lost at home to the Memphis Tigers.
In SEC play, Tennessee basketball was swept by the worst Kentucky Wildcats team in decades and finished 10-6. These guys regrouped late to make the SEC Tournament Championship, where lost to the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Then they only got a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament, losing in the first round to the Oklahoma State Cowboys for the first time under Pearl.