Is it time to hit the panic button on the Tennessee men's basketball team following its double-digit loss to archrival Kentucky in Lexington on Tuesday?

Not just yet.

The Volunteers' toughness left a lot to be desired. Senior guard Josh Bone said the team just got "punked" by the Wildcats.

However, they were fighting an uphill battle from the start.

Bruce Pearl returned to the coaching box for the first time in SEC play this season after serving his eight-game conference suspension imposed by commissioner Mike Slive.

While Pearl and associate head coach Tony Jones, who assumed the role of acting head coach during those eight games, have worked together for 10 seasons, the two have very contrasting coaching styles.

Pearl is much more animated, while Jones coaches with a more laid-back attitude.

The change in coaching styles can have an impact on the players during a game.

Take Jones' first game as the Vols' headman, a 68-65 loss on the road at Arkansas on Jan. 8.

UT looked out of sync early against the Razorbacks, before rallying in the second half and nearly escaping Fayetteville with a victory.

Pearl returned for one game on January 22, the matchup against Connecticut. The Vols lost that game, too 72-61. Then came Tuesday night's 73-61 loss to Kentucky, the first double-digit conference loss for Tennessee this season.

Luckily for the Vols, the coaching carousel ended Tuesday. Pearl will coach the Vols the rest of the way.

How far into March that way goes is still up in the air.

The Vols' postseason aspirations begin with the ankles of its two best players, junior guard Scotty Hopson and freshman forward Tobias Harris.

Hopson returned to the starting lineup Tuesday after missing the previous two games with a left ankle sprain he suffered in practice on Jan. 31.

Hopson showed toughness against Kentucky and battled to score 11 points, while Harris had arguably his worst game as a Vol.

Harris injured his right ankle in the Ole Miss game on Jan. 29.

On Monday, Pearl said it will take about three more weeks for Harris' ankle to get back to 100 percent.

Unfortunately for Pearl, Hopson's sprain was worse than Harris'. Putting two and two together, Hopson will basically need a month to return to full strength.

But the Vols don't have that luxury.

A mid-December slide against less-talented teams, as well as conference home losses to Florida and Alabama, has put the Vols in position to miss the NCAA Tournament if they don't regain the play that beat top-10 teams Villanova and Pittsburgh early in the year.

—Matt Dixon is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at and followed on twitter at