Merriam-Webster's definition of "coincidence" is as follows: "a situation in which events happen at the same time in a way that is not planned or expected."
Coincidences are harmless, innocent similarities. But when those unlikely events pile up one after another, and the unexpected transforms into expected, it becomes a problem.
Tennessee basketball's late-game funk is an alarming, worrisome coincidence-turned-problem that may very well end up defining Cuonzo Martin's tenure on Rocky Top if it keeps the Vols from the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year.
It began with a bang. Texas A&M stunned the Vols in their SEC home opener on Jan. 11 with a last-second 3-pointer to serve as one of UT's worst losses this season. Jeronne Maymon missed two free throws to give the Aggies a chance at the game-winning shot after UT blew a 14-point halftime lead.
Another late letdown came at Vanderbilt on Feb. 5, when UT guard Josh Richardson lost the ball on a potential game-tying drive and sealed another bad Vols loss.
This past week, with a big home game Tuesday against No. 3 Florida and a road test against Missouri, the Vols needed their late-game issues to go away quickly.
Instead, they came out more than ever.
On Tuesday, Florida's Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II nailed 3-point daggers that ousted the Vols with more than two minutes left and followed it up by going 5-of-6 from the line to clinch the win. Those freebies came after UT turned the ball over with a chance to take the lead.
On Saturday, Tennessee turned the ball over with 7.7 seconds left against Missouri, down three points, as Jabari Brown intercepted Maymon's inbound pass to Jordan McRae. The Vols left Columbia, Mo., with another loss despite being in position to send it to overtime on a last-second shot.
The crunch-time problems do not just exist at the end of games. The Vols have shut down late in halves, too, as UT has turned many last-gasp possessions into points for the opposing team heading into halftime via careless turnovers.
In striking contrast to their late-game struggles, the Vols are also showing plenty of issues in closing out the season. Martin's golden February record that the Tennessee athletic department totes like precious jewelry at this time of year is quickly turning to rust.
Starting on Feb. 1, 2014, the third-year Vols coach owned a glimmering 13-3 record at Tennessee in February. That was a big plus, considering the month is typically viewed as a make-or-break time for bubble teams. He was nearly able to squeak his first two teams into the Big Dance by finishing strong.
But so far this month, with a tournament appearance yet again very much in doubt, Martin is 2-3. He has as many losses midway through this month as he had throughout two complete Februarys in 2012 and 2013.
UT's surfacing late-season issues are a microcosm of the Vols' biggest struggle this season — if the clock is ticking and the game is on the line, Tennessee is not making the winning play.
The Vols' last-second problems were looked on as coincidences at one point, but that ship has long sailed.
Coincidences don't just happen in virtually every key moment during a team's season. Coincidences don't pile up over and over until a team with preseason Sweet 16 aspirations falls flat on a NCAA Tournament berth for a third straight year with so many opportunities late in the season to get in.
Sure, Martin still boasts a great record in February. A 15-6 record in any crucial month is solid.
But with three of those losses coming in the last 12 days, there's a lot to be desired.
There's an added sense of regret and despair when a team loses a close one. Martin himself agreed with many Vol players in that the toughest part of the Florida loss on Tuesday was that they felt they were "right there."
That aspect is more maddening than anything for Vol fans. This team is supposed to be in the class of the SEC, meanwhile they seem to come down to the wire with everyone — elite or unheralded — and they hardly pull out the win in those close games.
It's no wonder why Tennessee fans are getting sick and tired of moral victories.
Steven Cook is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.