After a terrific win last night by the UK Hoops team in a sold out Memorial Coliseum, and with a road game for the fellas looming tomorrow at Tennessee, we find ourselves today sandwiched between two opportunities to make people in Knoxville sad. I love these kinds of days. But as much as I enjoy beating Tennessee, I don’t think it’s gonna be quite the same tomorrow with Cuonzo Martin on the sidelines.
Am I the only person that really misses Bruce Pearl? I loved having that guy around. A lot of you are probably thinking I’m crazy (first Rick Pitino and now Bruce Pearl? This guy has no standards!), but let’s be reasonable here. I’m not saying that I like him, just saying that I miss having him in the league. The man was a veritable comedic goldmine. Maybe not intentionally (although I’d wager at least a few of his stunts were tongue-in-cheek), but he was definitely one of the better characters in the league. So many of the other coaches can be so boring, like Darrin Horn, Trent Johnson, and Andy Kennedy (Wait, he did what!? Nevermind, take him off that list.), that it’s nice to have that goofy, self-destructive presence to balance it out and bring some excitement to the SEC teleconferences. Abbott needed a Costello, after all.
But if Kevin Stallings is Kevin from The Office, then Bruce Pearl was definitely Toby. While it’s not a physical match at all, the similarity arose from just how fun it was to hate him, and I don’t think we’re gonna get that same satisfaction from making fun of the new guy. At least, not at first. Cuonzo Martin seems like a very normal, well-balanced guy, and that makes him just like all the other coaches in the league (again, except Andy Kennedy; he got taken off that list for being a crazy racist). It makes him boring. And what’s more, Bruce was actually a pretty decent coach that did very well for his team; we’ve yet to see if Martin can do as well (although he’s done better than most expected him to at this point).
Truthfully, as much as I hate to say it, we need Tennessee to be good. I don’t understand the interest that some (not all) people have for seeing particular “rival” SEC teams lose, especially in non-conference games. Any hero is only as good as the villain. So I know you hate Tennessee, and I do too, but if I had my way, they’d start SEC play undefeated. All the SEC teams would, for that matter. There are those of you who think otherwise, and that’s fine, but I think many would agree with me. The better the conference, the better we look when we come out on top.
But tomorrow is our first look at Tennessee’s new, and if not improved, then hopefully improving, look. It’s fair to say that this is a down year for the Vols, and that’s really a massive understatement (in fact, I sometimes wonder who would win between the men’s and women’s teams), but the game in Thompson-Boling always has the potential to do nasty things. Their roster has been fluid, to say the least, but never underestimate a passionate team of overlooked players performing in front of their own crowd (See: Devan Downey. Still mad at that guy’s circus show at USC.) But more permanent, and more important, than the myriad roster changes is the change at head coach. Will you hate Cuonzo Martin like you hated Bruce Pearl? Or, if you’re like me and actually enjoyed the old guy for his plucky comedic relief, do you think Martin can match his energy or his antics? I think the answer to either question would be “no”, and that’s really a shame.
So, Bruce, I never thought I’d say this while you were coaching, but I miss you, big dog. If you’re reading this, and you’re ever offered a job in the SEC, I hope you take it (But don’t bring Stephen. He’s not invited. What a chode.). Until then, until that day when Pearl makes his triumphant and/or catastrophic comeback, we can only hope that Cuonzo Martin goes absolutely, flat-out Wesley Willis crazy. Then, and only then, can he be deemed a suitable replacement for his predecessor.
(I said yesterday we’d see a Tennessee preview, but apparently that was rescheduled to hopefully go up today. New, remember? Eventually I’ll get the hang of it. Maybe.)