In case you have been hiding under a rock since Dec. 11, here’s one thing you’ve missed on Rocky Top: one of the hottest college basketball teams in America, the once-seventh-ranked Tennessee hoops team, complete a 180-degree turn overnight.

And this was with Bruce Pearl still at the helm.

The suspension of Pearl for eight games by the SEC, which has been described as “drama on Rocky Top” by almost every ESPN college basketball analyst for the past four months, has now been overshadowed by the dismal record the Vols have mustered since the fall semester let out for UT students: 3-6. Opening the SEC regular season with two losses hasn’t helped much, either.

Signs of a looming letdown were apparent earlier in the year when the Vols had close games against teams of much lesser talent, like Belmont, Missouri State and Virginia-Commonwealth. It seemed as though Tennessee was content with playing to the caliber of the competition as long as they got the win. At least their defense and sputtering offense at times  displayed this mantra.

But soon enough, wins against No. 7 Villanova and No. 3 Pittsburgh put this doubt to rest. The Vols were now 7-0, and it seemed as though the momentum gained thus far would catapult the team through the trials that lay ahead with Pearl’s suspension and many smaller schools to toy with until the buzzer sounded and put another close win in the record books.

Now we know, this was never the case.

Beginning Dec. 14, Tennessee hit a three-game slide, falling to the defending Summit League champion Oakland at home, then dropping a one-point decision to Charlotte in North Carolina totaling just 48 points for the game. After that, the stunned Big Orange came home to lose yet another one-point decision to USC. At least Lane Kiffin had no part in this ordeal.

Fortune favors the bold, which certainly described Belmont in its second game against UT this season, but it wasn’t bold enough to squeak out a win in Knoxville two days before Christmas. The Vols won this one-point decision 66-65, their third nail-biter in a row and their first win since Pittsburgh.

The next two games included the same Tennessee performance, as the Vols barely defeated Tennessee-Martin 68-62, a team coming off a 100-40 loss against Ohio State, and then had a double-digit loss to Charleston on New Year’s Eve.

By this junction in the season, the Volunteers were very much out of the top 25 rankings and were just about forgotten in any March Madness talk, which has no bearing this early in the season anyway. Still, fans were now belittled and bewildered, and UT had yet to lose its head coach to suspension.

The win against No. 19 Memphis, considered by many as the in-state little brother to Tennessee, was just what the doctor ordered. UT crushed the Tigers on the boards and in about every possible statistical category in a 104-84 blowout. The SEC regular season would begin three days after the rout, and things looked up for assistant coach and current UT interim head coach Tony Jones, taking over for Pearl for the next eight SEC conference games. If only Tennessee could always play ranked teams.

Then came the loss to Arkansas at Arkansas. Then came the loss at home to Florida in overtime.

In every season, there comes a time in when the identity of the team is found if each member of the team rallies around a few leaders or coaches, gets on board and never looks back. If there is ever the right time for a divination this season for this team, the time is now. As forward Scotty Hopson tweeted yesterday afternoon, the day after the Florida loss, “look on the bright side can’t go nowhere but UP from here!”

Simply put, well put.

— Colin Skinner is a junior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at cskinne3@utk.edu.