all VOL, y'all.

Aaron Craft, Kevin Ware manage to sour my Sweet 16

aaron craft

Greetings, AVY readers. Today, it’s my great pleasure to introduce you to Jon Reed. Jon recently reached out via email to see if I’d be interested in having him contribute to the site. After reading the writing samples he provided (both of which appeared on OutKickTheCoverage.com), I quickly realized I had a no-brainer on my hands. Because this kid’s got chops. In his first AVY piece, Jon takes a peek at what might have been had Aaron Craft and Kevin Ware (remember them?) wound up in orange.

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While Tennessee was left in the friend zone for the Big Dance for the second straight year, Ohio State (thanks largely to Aaron Craft) and Louisville (who has a guy named Kevin Ware — remember him?) continued their march through the tournament.

The Buckeyes are even-money favorites to reach the Final Four out of the West Region after seeing other top-seeded teams like Gonzaga, New Mexico, Kansas State, and Wisconsin fail to make it past opening weekend.

And Rick (less-than-a-minute-man) Pitino’s Cardinals are also rolling — currently -135 favorites (meaning you would have to wager $135 to win $100) to win the Midwest Region.

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If they were both to hold serve, the two teams would meet in the Final Four with a berth to the championship game on the line.

The casual Tennessee hoops fan is probably wondering when I will get to the point with this post, while the diehard’s blood-pressure has already risen to its boiling point at the mere mention of two would-be, could-be Vols — especially…

Aaron Craft

I’m not a guy who’s hung up on the ghost of Bruce Pearl, but even I haven’t been able to watch a single Ohio State game the past three seasons without getting nostalgic and thinking about what might have been. Sadly, I am not the only person that has this problem. In maybe the most tone-deaf tweet of 2013, even former Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton let the world know that he suffers with it as well:

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Seeing this tweet set me off in laughter. I couldn’t even be mad because it was comforting. Now, the only problem I have is that someone hasn’t snapped a video of Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce during an Ohio State game. I would have paid money to see the expression on BP’s face when Aaron Craft nailed the buzzer-beating three-point basket to send Iowa State home and Ohio State into the Sweet 16.

If you can look past the hatred of the guy that virtually single-handedly ended the best stretch of basketball for Tennessee’s program, you discover that Craft would have been the perfect player at Tennessee.

He’s a throwback to the beginning of Pearl’s tenure when he had grinders like JuJuan Smith, Chris Lofton, CJ Watson, and Dane Bradshaw running the show. A defensive minded point guard (even though I believe it was a block, Craft did draw a charge while trailing in the final 90 seconds of the game to keep Ohio State in the game) who’s obsessed with leading his team with his play.

You look at this year’s Vols squad and you cannot help but think where they would be with Craft running the show instead of Trae Golden. Would Tennessee fans be gearing up for this weekend’s slate of games differently?

Kevin Ware

At Louisville, Kevin Ware has been a forgotten player to most Vol fans. He’s only scored in double digits once in the very first game of the season against Manhattan. Other than a highlight dunk against Syracuse in the Big East Championship game, he has been relatively quiet.

(OK, I’ll be honest. The dunk was nothing special and was more of a reflection on a nice pass and how easy it can be to find holes in zone defenses, but, remember, the kid’s a point guard! Could any point guard at Tennessee go up to catch an alley-oop? Can Trae Golden even touch the net?)

But Ware is still only a sophomore and has been stuck behind solid veteran guards for his entire career at Louisville. That will change next season as he is likely to earn the starting role at point guard. Plus, there’s still time this season for him to leave his mark on a tournament run.

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And I mean, seriously, given how tough it’s been to be a Tennessee fan of late, I expect nothing less than for both teams to reach the Final Four.  If so, we’ll see the two point guards go head-to-head for a little while in a glimpse of what might have been. One will display athleticism, the ability to play both guard positions, and the potential to take his game to the next level, while the other will play the point guard position with such tenacity and leadership, you’d think he was born to do nothing else.

Craft will most likely have his team in the exact same situation next March in his senior season, and you just know that Pitino will have Ware and the Cardinals poised for another postseason run next year as well.

Speaking of postseason runs, Cuonzo should have Tennessee in the second weekend of the tournament next year. If not, those memories and thoughts of what could have been will get stronger and stronger.

We might even get another Mike Hamilton tweet to commemorate the moment.

Say, all this reminiscing has made me hungry….

Anyone want some barbecue?

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