Tobias Harris' announcement on Friday that he would forgo his remaining collegiate eligibility in favor of the NBA Draft, coupled with a similar announcement from Scotty Hopson one day later, reduced the optimism level for 2011-12 Vol hoops from a mountain to a mole hill.
The loss of Harris and Hopson means the Big Orange is saying goodbye to 44.8 percent of last season's points, 27.7 percent of its rebounds, 19.2 percent of its assists, 28.2 percent of its minutes and 38.2 percent of its starts.
Harris and Hopson last season combined for 1,064 points, 254 rebounds, 85 assists, 1,930 minutes and 65 starts.
Hopson (17.0 points per game) and Harris (15.3) ranked 1-2 in scoring. They also ranked 1-2 in minutes played - Hopson at 29.3, Harris at 29.2. In addition, Hopson led in 3-point shooting (37.6 percent), while Harris ranked No. 1 in rebounds (247) and No. 2 in blocks (29).
Tennessee already was facing some retooling in 2011-12 due to the loss of six 2010-11 seniors - starting point guard Melvin Goins, starting center Brian Williams, plus reserves Josh Bone, John Fields, Steven Pearl and Michael Hubert.
If you toss in Hopson and Harris, the eight 2010-11 players who will not be back for 2011-12 accounted for 74.5 percent of last season's points (1,771 of 2,376), 69.5 percent of the rebounds (889 of 1,279), 60.5 percent of the assists (268 of 443), 69.4 percent of the minutes (4,755 of 6,850) and 79.4 percent of the starts (135 of 170).
Of the 35 starts returning from last season, 33 of those belong to rising senior Cameron Tatum. Rising junior Kenny Hall and rising sophomore Trae Golden had one each.
Even without the six seniors, Tennessee projected to be a probable 20-win team and NCAA Tournament invitee in 2011-12. First-year assistant coach Kent Williams hinted at this during a recent interview with InsideTennessee.
"If we have Scotty and Tobias back," he said, "we should be right there competing for a chance to win this league."
Knowing there was a good chance neither would return, Williams also explored the flip side of the coin.
"If we don't have those guys back," he said, "we'll need a guy who was the third-leading scorer last year to be the leading scorer this year. We'll need a guy who played 12 minutes last year to play closer to 30.
"You're putting guys in different positions, so at the end of the year we've got to be a better team than you were at the beginning. It was the opposite with Tennessee this past year, for obvious reasons. We've got to grow so that, by NCAA Tournament time, we're playing our best basketball."
That's putting it mildly. Minus Hopson and Harris, the Vols will need a major growth spurt between now and March.