Mental edge is a tricky thing in sports.
It's what allows the Yankees to roll over the Red Sox every season or the Cubs to never reach the Series. It's the reason some athletes read certain Bible verses before games or never wash a particular pair of socks.
It's also the reason some teams start the season 10-2 and then lose six of their next seven (see UT men's basketball).
Some teams have it, while some don't.
The Vols don't have it - at least not yet.
Coach Buzz Peterson knew coming into the season that youth would be an issue. But just because Tennessee doesn't carry one senior on scholarship, there are a few other reasons the Vols are swimming in the pool of NIT candidates for the second-straight season.
Youth would appear to be the most likely reason no one has stepped forward for the Vols but age isn't at fault - mentality is.
"(The leadership is) here and there a little bit," Peterson said. "(Justin) Albrecht may say something to get somebody going. You may see Jemere (Hendrix) say something. You may see (John) Winchester say something.
"That's about it."
What happened to the team's most experienced players - Brandon Crump, C.J. Watson and Scooter McFadgon?
The Vols big three have each developed a mental muzzle. But ole' Buzz knew that before the season began.
"Back a couple years ago when we recruited Dane (Bradshaw) we hired those people to come in a do a personality profile of our team," Peterson said at his Monday press conference. "It was interesting."
The profile apparently revealed what most already know - the Vols' best players don't have the mental edge to win close games. At least that's what the administrators of the personality profile told Peterson.
"(They told us) at the end of a ballgame, you don't have five guys to put in the game," Peterson said. "You just don't have five people that want to get out there and take that last-second shot."
Comforting news for a team that plays games down to the wire every week.
Crump, Watson and McFadgon are good players. They just aren't Ron Slay, the Vols emotional leader from a year ago.
Thompson-Boling Arena needs a new name. I think the "Buzzard's Nest" would be appropriate.
After watching drones of Vol "fans" (I use the term loosely) pile out of the Louisville game with six minutes to go, I decided "Smokey's Bandits" are the worst fans in America.
Sure the Kentucky game was packed. Sure a few of you got creative during the Florida upset, but let's be realistic.
Bad fans that either don't come or leave early are not good for the psyche of a young team.
When the Vols opened the preseason with back-to-back 100 point games, Buzz should have known something was amiss.
His team likes to shoot, but they don't do so well on the other end. Tennessee has only been victorious in one game this season when it didn't score over 70 points (65-63 against Florida). The team feeds on its offense.
Vol opponents have shot 43.3 percent for season, and on the road no one seems to miss.
Without defining leadership and a renewed emphasis on defense Tennessee will spend another Selection Sunday playing X-Box and eating Cheesy Poofs.
But if the Vols don't reach the NCAA Tournament next season, it may be Peterson's mental edge that will come into question.
- Glenn LaFollette is the sports editor of The Daily Beacon and a senior in broadcasting. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Inexperience not the only problem
Published: Tue Feb 10, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 05:47 p.m.