The Sublime Object of Spartanology

This is the fifth in a weekly-ish series of two-game recaps of the 2021-22 Tennessee men’s basketball season.

December 11: Tennessee 76, UNC Greensboro 36 (7-2)
December 14: Tennessee 96, USC Upstate 52 (8-2)

Not to complain or anything about the extremely non-intense gig I have, but these games are becoming sort of rote. Drawing long-lasting conclusions from a pair of blowouts over teams that likely won’t come close to the NCAA Tournament in any aspect is difficult. These are fun to attend, which I’ll cover later, but…yeah. Not much to be said here beyond the obvious, which is that Tennessee looks the part of a borderline top 10 team (via KenPom) and appears to be almost exactly what I thought they would be six weeks ago. The recaps from here on out will be more excitable, simply because this concludes (beyond a couple of dire SEC sides) the Quadrant 4 portion of Tennessee’s schedule.

For help in attempting to make this interesting, and for the first time in the history of my website, I’ve called in two outside writers. These are two people humans “intellectuals” that will help tell you the story of what just happened, along with the story of what’s to come.

First up is Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian philosopher and ‘foremost exponent of Lacanian theory’.

I emailed Mr. Žižek and asked if he’d be interested in covering a pair of relatively stress-free, meaningless games that the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team played in. While I was unable to confirm that Mr. Žižek watched the two games we sent him, and was also unable to confirm that he has watched any basketball game in his 72 years of living, I feel pleased with his response. Now, his response appears to simply be three paragraphs plucked from a February 2021 piece on, of all things, the band Rammstein, with certain references changed to be about “Tennessee men’s basketball team” and their opponents. I’ve accepted it and was honored for him to reply. Slavoj!

“Friedrich Jacobi, the German philosopher active around 1800, wrote: “La vérité en la repoussant, on l’embrasse,”– in repelling the truth, one embraces it.

The fascination with total catastrophe and with the end of our civilization makes us spectators who morbidly enjoy the disintegration of normality; this fascination is often fed by a false feeling of guilt (Tennessee men’s basketball team as a punishment for our decadent way of life, etc.). Now, with the promise of the Tennessee men’s basketball team and the spread of new variants of UNC Greensboro men’s basketball team and USC Upstate men’s basketball team, we live in an endlessly postponed breakdown.

Notice how the time-frame is changing: in spring 2020, Tennessee men’s basketball team authorities often said “in 2020-21, it should get better”; then, in the fall of 2020, it was two months; now, it is mostly half a year (in the summer of 2022, maybe even later, things will get better); voices are already heard which place the end of the Tennessee men’s basketball team fans in 2022, even 2024… Every day brings news – Tennessee men’s basketball team works against new variants, or maybe they don’t; the John Fulkerson is bad, but then it seems it works quite well; there are big delays in the supply of three-pointers, but most of us will still get three-pointers by summer… these endless oscillations obviously also generate a pleasure of their own, making it easier for us to survive the misery of our basketball lives.

The Rammstein conceit that “we have to live till we die” outlines a way out of this deadlock: to fight against the NCAA Tournament, SEC Tournament, Memphis, Arizona, Alabama looming in the distance not by way of withdrawing from life but as a way to live with utmost intensity. Is there anyone more ALIVE today than millions of Tennessee men’s basketball team fans who with full awareness risk their mental-well being on a game-by-game base? Many of them died, but till they died they were alive. They do not just sacrifice themselves for us in exchange for our hypocritical praise. Even less could they be said to be survival machines reduced to the bare essentials of living. In fact, they are those who are today most alive.”

An eternal thinks to Slavoj for taking time off from researching Hegelian dialectic and eating two hot dogs to provide us with these words.

Next up, we have an even more special guest, a football-shaped feline who has learned how to type on a keyboard just in time for Tennessee battling two opponents with cat-related mascots. Please welcome in Cedric, our family cat and either a pest or precious depending on who you ask.

Cedric, as far as I know, has no concept of what basketball is or how it is played. However, he does have a concept of cats and cat-like behavior, which is why it is important to bring him in shortly before Tennessee plays the Memphis Tigers and the Arizona Wildcats. Seeing as Cedric somehow has the same stripes as the awful Memphis home court, and seeing as he is supposedly a descendent of some form of wildcat, he is the foremost expert at this website on both. Cedric, we would love to hear your thoughts on Tennessee’s next two opponents.

“Meow! Meow meow meow. Meeeeeeoooooowwwww. MEOW. Feed me. Please. Meow!”

Excellent! Thank you for that observation, Cedric. Please do not wake me up at 5:30 AM tomorrow.

Look: the actual basketball upshot of two games against two bad teams is genuinely very minimal. If you’re a coach or particularly invested observer, you can squint at a few bullet points for each.

UNC Greensboro:

  • In the first half of this game, Tennessee completely shut down what UNC Greensboro wanted to do with regards to backdoor cuts and screening actions. After halftime, until the second media timeout, UNCG were able to find some openings in Tennessee’s defensive coverage. After that second media timeout, Tennessee once againneutered what UNCG wanted to do over the final 12 minutes, allowing just eight points. That’s the hallmark of a good defense: you start well, the opponent adjusts, then you adjust to the opponent’s adjustments. Mike Schwartz and crew are doing a fabulous job.
  • Tennessee’s ball screen defense was just about perfect: 14 points allowed on 28 ball-screen possessions, per Synergy.
  • As I assumed they would based on pregame expectations, Tennessee was able to use penetration to create scaldingly wide-open shots. 21 of 32 catch-and-shoot threes were considered unguarded by Synergy, and even the 8-for-21 (38.1%) hit rate Tennessee produced here is fine.

USC Upstate: 

When the run of scoring looks like that, it’s why I invite Mr. Žižek (who is obviously not a college basketball guy, but presumably is at least aware of Luka Doncic, a fellow Slovenian) and my cat to do coverage. These games are just there to be there. You learn little and feel less, but they do give USC Upstate scholarship money and they also provide 40 minutes of fan service for little kids to be able to understand why basketball is cool. At the game last night, there was a family of six next to us and none of the kids knew or cared what USC Upstate’s KenPom ranking was or why they were so bad defensively. They only cared that Tennessee was scoring a bunch and making cool plays. I am fine with that and I like it.

I’ve noticed a fair amount of super-online Tennessee fans now being afraid of Memphis after the Tigers’ somewhat-surprising victory over #6 Alabama. I get it; everyone would prefer if they were dead and done. But it’s also probably nice that Memphis is playing a much better defense than Alabama (though any rational observer would note Alabama’s offense is better than Tennessee’s) and is also not playing at home. You cannot live in fear forever; we have to live ’til we die.

Aside from Missouri and Georgia, there are no more irreparably abject opponents on the schedule. The real college basketball season ends now. Let’s enjoy it.

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