What do the Michigan State, Syracuse, Xavier and Tennessee basketball programs have in common? A couple things.
All have been to the Elite Eight at least once in the last decade. And all have lost exhibition games to Division II teams at one point or another in the last four years.
The Vols took the plunge Monday night in spectacularly ugly fashion, letting the Indianapolis Greyhounds storm their way to a 79-64 win at Thompson-Boling arena.
Is the loss embarrassing? Sure. Is it alarming? Negative. Plenty of evidence suggests that exhibition setbacks are seldom an indicator of the success (or lack thereof) a team will enjoy later in the season.
Syracuse is the best example. The Orange dropped a game to tiny LeMoyne last year, only to win 24 of their first 25 regular-season games against a daunting Big East schedule. They coasted to a regular-season conference title and ended their season in the Sweet Sixteen.
Evergreen contender Michigan State makes a strong Exhibit B. The Spartans dropped an exhibition game to Grand Valley State in 2007. Did they languish in mediocrity the rest of the season? Not exactly. Tim Izzo's squad went 24-6 and made a Sweet Sixteen run of their own.
Heck, even Kentucky hoops don John Calipari knows something about exhibition losses. His 1995-6 UMass MInutemen went 35-2 and lost in the national semifinals. But they also lost in a preseason exhibition.
Is Tennessee as good as those three teams? Probably not. But the Vols are stocked with young, talented players still figuring out how to play together. That's what November is for.
While the frequent fouls, shoddy shooting and porous defense were disappointing, they're also typical of late-fall basketball. Things will get better, and Tennessee will be an NCAA Tournament team.
And we'll all look back and laugh at the loss to the Greyhounds.
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