"You either have it or you don't."
That was the message Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl told his team following Saturday's 69-63 loss to Georgia.
The scene was set up for the Vols to make a statement in front of a nationally televised audience.
Having it be the annual OUTLIVE game should've inspired the team more than it did, too.
However, a slow start and little scoring aside from Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris pushed the Vols farther down the SEC East standings and closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Pearl noted after the game that the Vols seemed to play as if they were already in the big dance. Given their early-season resume, they would likely be in the NCAA Tournament if it started today.
But the NCAA Tournament doesn't start for nearly a month and the Vols have the chance to improve their seeding or play their way out of the tournament.
Tennessee appeared to have the "it" Pearl talked about Saturday earlier in the season, winning its first seven games. But since the game at Pittsburgh on Dec. 11, UT is just 9-11, including six home losses, the most in a season under Pearl.
Currently sitting at 16-11 and 6-6 in SEC play, the time is now for the Vols to get back on track and end a strenuous season in positive fashion.
Tennessee has four games remaining in the regular season: at Vanderbilt, vs. Mississippi State, at South Carolina and vs. Kentucky.
Memorial Gym in Nashville is always a tough place for opponents, and the Vols have lost three of their last four games there against the Commodores.
Mississippi State appears to be peaking at the right time after early-season suspensions to its two best players, Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney.
South Carolina has struggled for much of the year, but played the Vols tough in Knoxville last week, losing 73-67.
And then there's the visit from Pearl's best friend, John Calipari, and his Kentucky Wildcats. Despite Kentucky not playing well on the road this season, UT fans should never be too confident about playing the Big Blue.
Each of the four games is winnable, but it wouldn't suprise anyone if the Vols were to lose any of the four.
Tennessee will almost certainly need at least a split of those four games to feel good heading into the SEC Tournament before Selection Sunday.
A split of the remaining games would put the Vols at .500 in the conference, 8-8, and 18-13 overall. Not great, but given its RPI and strength of schedule, UT should be put in the field of 68.
Additionally, the SEC Tournament will give the Vols a chance to play (and win) up to four more games.
While opportunities like Saturday's to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee are still available, it will be up to the Vols whether or not they take advantage of them.
If Tennessee doesn't find "it," it may have to look towards a different team goal, being the preseason and postseason NIT Champions.
—Matt Dixon is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org