The Tennessee Volunteers’ basketball program has struggled to find success over the last six seasons of play. Ever since Bruce Pearl was let go after the 2010-11 season, the Vols have dropped off significantly, especially over the last few seasons.
In Bruce Pearl’s six years at Tennessee, the Vols earned a 145-61 overall record and made the NCAA Tournament all six seasons under Pearl. Tennessee reached No. 1 in the polls for the first time in school history under Pearl, and the team made three Sweet Sixteens and the program’s first ever Elite Eight.
Since then, however, the Vols have had little to brag about.
In the last six seasons, the Vols have gone 110-92 overall and have just one NCAA Tournament appearance. That appearance came in Cuonzo Martin’s last season and saw Tennessee make it to the Sweet Sixteen. The Vols also made two NIT appearances under Martin.
The Vols were 63-42 under Martin, which was a drop-off from the Pearl era but still successful. Since Martin’s departure, the Vols suffered through the one-year tenure of Donnie Tyndall and have been rebuilding under Rick Barnes the past two seasons. In that span, the Vols have gone 47-51 and have made no tournament appearances whatsoever.
Tennessee’s lack of success over the last six years is bad enough on its own. But when you look around the state and see how other basketball programs in Tennessee have fared in that time, it’s even more sobering for the Vols.
The two other major basketball programs in the state of Tennessee are Vanderbilt and Memphis. Both of those teams have been in ruts of their own over the last six years, but even they have had more success in that time than the Vols.
Over the last six seasons, Memphis has achieved a 136-65 overall record and made it to the NCAA Tournament three times. Lately, the Tigers have struggled and just put together a 19-13 season. But even with their struggles, they never had a season at or below .500 while the Vols have had three consecutive such seasons.
Vanderbilt has also slipped off a bit over the past six years, but they’ve also had more success than the Vols. The Commodores have gone 115-86 in that stretch and have made three NCAA Tournament appearances, including earning a No. 9 seed in this season’s tournament. Vanderbilt also won the SEC Tournament in 2012 and made the NIT quarterfinals in 2015.
Tennessee’s biggest in-state competition have all had more success than the Vols over the last six years. But they aren’t the only ones either. Even mid-major programs across the state have done better than the Vols in that span.
Middle Tennessee State has gone 153-53 over the last six seasons. Granted, that record has been achieved in much smaller conferences than the SEC, but that record is still impressive regardless. And what’s even more impressive is MTSU’s three NCAA Tournament appearances in that time, including beating No. 2 seed Michigan State last year and making it in as a No. 12 seed this year. The Blue Raiders have also won their conference tournament twice and regular season title three times in the last six years.
Belmont has had a run of success over the last few seasons as well. The Bruins have gone 143-54 in the last six years and have made it to the NCAA Tournament three times in the last six seasons. The Bruins are currently in the NIT this season and have made the NIT every season they haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament. They have also won their conference tournament three times and won the regular season championship five of the last six seasons.
East Tennessee State and Chattanooga, two teams in the Southern Conference, both have as many NCAA Tournament appearances as the Vols over the last six seasons despite ETSU going just 113-85 and Chattanooga going 112-83 in that span. Even Austin Peay, who has had only one .500 season over the last six years, has as many NCAA Tournament appearances as the Vols over the last six years.
This season gave hope to Vol fans that Rick Barnes may finally have the program going in the right direction. The future should be bright for the Vols, but the recent past has been one of the darkest periods in the program’s history. And most of the other basketball programs around the state have stepped up in the Vols’ absence.