UT wing Cameron Tatum on the Vols' mindset
If it seems like first-year Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin says the same things, over and over, it's only because he's being honest about the Vols.
"We've got to see the team toughness improve,'' Martin said Tuesday. "You've got to take individual pride in how you guard.
"I know it sounds like the same thing, because it is. But we put the game films in, and we see the same things, different game.''
The Vols (5-6) play The Citadel (2-9) at Thompson-Boling Arena in the feature presentation tonight (TV: SportSouth, 7 p.m.).
Tennessee is looking for its first three-game win streak this season, while the Bulldogs have dropped seven straight.
UT sophomore Jordan McRae said the holiday break has come at a good time, allowing the players some rest as well as time to reflect on their shortfalls this season.
"We've had a chance to think about things over the break,'' McRae said. "We come back on a two-game win streak, and I think everyone is recharged and ready to go.''
In the case of senior wing Cameron Tatum, it's a matter of maintaining the level of play he showed in UT's two most recent wins, against UNC Asheville (Dec. 20, 72-68) and last Friday against East Tennessee State (66-63).
"We kind of squeaked them out,'' said Tatum, who was 7-of-10 shooting in the two wins while averaging 15 points in those contests. "You can't put a price on those wins. It was that good for our chemistry, and it got us excited about coming back from break for these games.''
Tatum said despite the Vols' modest overall record, the team's goal to play in a postseason tournament hasn't changed.
"We know we can play with anybody, and our goals haven't changed,'' Tatum said. "The film sessions show us that in the games we were losing, we were losing them ourselves, it was the things we were doing wrong.''
At 5-6, UT is off to the program's worst start since the 2001-02 season, when then-first-year coach Buzz Peterson started the season also 5-6 despite not facing any ranked opponents.
While the Vols are 2-6 in games decided by 10 points or less (three coming against Top 25 opponents), Peterson's UT team was 2-5 in games decided by 10 points through the same period.
Martin believes grinding out close games comes down to toughness as well as the ability to get defensive stops when games are on the line.
"The bottom line is we have to do a better job accepting challenges on defense,'' Martin said. "It's not very complicated; it's guarding your man one-on-one. We definitely have to get better on the perimeter.''
The Vols will be heavily favored to beat The Citadel, a member of the Southern Conference. The Bulldogs return just one starter from last season's team that finished 10-22.
The Bulldogs have relied heavily on junior center Mike Groselle, a 6-foot-8, 238-pounder who averages 15.8 points and 9.9 rebounds.
UT power forward Jeronne Maymon said he studied tape on The Citadel over his holiday break.
"Watching the breakdown over Christmas, you can see he's a hard worker and they'll do a variety of things with him,'' Maymon said. "I'm ready. I'm coming back with a different attitude to turn it up on offense and defense.''
Contrary to conventional tradition, it seems it's not too early for the Vols to make some new resolutions.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32