Amid the celebration and the circus, Bruce Pearl was in his element.
He was smiling and sweating, which is his way. He was directing and reflecting, which is his nature.
He was winning, and that has become Pearl’s foremost trait as the coach of the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team.
Saturday, Pearl took a mixture of Scotty Hopson, role players and newcomers to Pittsburgh, a top-ranked power of the nation’s top-ranked power conference. Pearl and Hopson and Co. stole the show, overpowering the No. 3-ranked Panthers in a 83-76 win that was nowhere near that close.
The win clearly stated two points — one directly, the other subtly.
First, these Volunteers made their case as a legit basketball power both today and in the days to come. Pearl’s bunch moved to the top of the Ratings Performance Index — the computer generated scale that strives to reveal a team’s power rather than its prestige.
Hopson looks the part of an alpha dog, and the Vols’ depth and physicality are hard to ignore.
Indirectly, the Vols’ impressive win makes a strong point against a college football playoff. OK, it’s a leap, but stay on point.
Think about it: The greatness of the college basketball tournament has a harsh fallout during the regular season. March Madness may not completely mute stunning upsets or statement wins in the regular season, but it surely tones them down.
The Vols went on the road and manhandled a legitimate top-five team, but all that ultimately will mean is the Vols will get say a No. 2 seed rather than a No. 3 in the NCAA tournament. Has anyone you know mentioned UT’s win in the last 72 hours? Thought so.
Now think about if that had been a road football win. If Saturday’s stunning performance had been in football — if the Vols had gone to, say, Gainesville or Tallahassee or Ann Arbor and beaten a top-five foe, then the buzz would have been felt from Gatlinburg to Lynchburg to South Pittsburg. It would have been the topic at Sunday school and at the Thursday night card game.
True, a part of that is this region’s unyielding passion for all things football, but it’s also a testament to the unrivaled importance of the regular season for college football. Especially compared to college hoops.
This is not to say that deciding a champion by bowl systems and computer-generated matchups is a better fundamental system than a playoff. It’s not. But as great as March Madness is, its huge and undeniable side effect is the marginalization of the regular season.
By intent or by accident, college football has made its three-plus-month march to the finish line the most compelling in sports. Every Saturday is overloaded with drama; every game is filled with the chance that the season will be altered in that moment.
Ask Oklahoma, which was No. 1 when it had its year unplugged by Missouri. Ask any of the Big Ten trio that have one loss. Ask LSU, which fell a touchdown short of potentially taking Auburn’s place in next month’s title game.
That’s the power of the season hanging on every game.
In college football, one moment can mean everything. In college basketball, one moment barely means anything.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...