Mike Strange: Vols prove to be fully functional

Mike Strange
The Tennessee Vols huddle prior to the game against Memphis at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011.

Photo by Adam Brimer

The Tennessee Vols huddle prior to the game against Memphis at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011.

Reports that Tennessee was on a bullet train back to the NIT are greatly exaggerated.

The Vols, having lost their way in mid-December, arrived at a crossroads Wednesday night.

A 104-84 rout of No. 21 Memphis puts UT squarely back on the path to a promising postseason. And it wasn't really that close.

As the Tigers arrived at Thompson-Boling Arena for the tipoff in this annual cross-state war, they found their hosts in disarray, losers of four of the past six games and suddenly vulnerable to whatever mid-major team wandered into town.

Let's go to the bracketologists to size up the Vols' fall from grace since that 7-0 start.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi had the Vols as a 10 seed; Jerry Palm, at CBS Sports, had them at a nine.

Neither estimation leaves much room for further slippage.

Andy Katz, ESPN's lead college basketball writer, used the term "dysfunctional" in a tweeted evaluation last week.

What a national ESPN2 audience saw Wednesday night was close enough to 100 percent functional.

The Vols shot 53.7 percent from the field. And - stop the presses - they were even hotter from 3-point range at 57.1 percent.

They led by 36 points at one juncture, forcing coach Bruce Pearl to rescind his vow to stick with a reduced 10-man rotation.

To be a good sport he had to empty his bench. Thus 16 Vols showed up in the box score, and 14 of them scored.

Pearl, in fact, did limit his rotation to 10 men until after the issue was decided. Vols 11 and 12 appeared at the 4:17 mark when the score was 91-59.

UT's Bruce Pearl talks about win over Memphis

All 10 men contributed. There wasn't a slacker in the bunch.

When last seen five days ago, Tennessee was getting toasted 91-78 on this same floor by College of Charleston. What changed?

Was Memphis all it took, a heated rival?

Was it the Tigers' ranking? The Vols are 3-0 against ranked teams this year, playing their best basketball against Villanova, Pittsburgh and Memphis.

This one only counts for one "W" but the Vols almost deserve bonus points for knocking out Memphis twice.

In the first half, an exchange of 3-point baskets left UT with a 14-10 lead. That's when the game changed.

Scotty Hopson started the change with a dunk. That kicked off a surge in which the Vols got points on 11 of their next 13 possessions.

When everyone came up for air, it was a 20-point game, 37-17.

Furthermore, eight different Vols contributed to the barrage.

Want more? Five of the scores were second-chance baskets, thanks to energy on the offensive boards.

Tennessee hadn't peaked yet. That came at 45-20 with 4:41 left in the half.

At that point Memphis finally achieved back-to-back scores for the first time all night.

But give the young Tigers some credit. They closed the first half with a 7-0 run and opened the second with a 5-0 spurt.

All of a sudden it was a 49-39 game and Tennessee appeared confused. A crowd of 18,884 had seen this movie before against Oakland. It didn't end well.

This one did.

Again, it was a Hopson dunk that started the recovery. And some recovery it was, 21-4.

The stunning aspect of the second-half knockout was watching Tennessee sink six consecutive 3-point baskets: two each by Melvin Goins, Josh Bone and Hopson.

The gang that ranked 296th in the nation (30.3 percent) beyond the arc was 10-of-14 before a few started rimming out.

Five different Vols hit treys. Tobias Harris wasn't among them, but his 17 points and 13 rebounds were plenty.

And now, per SEC commissioner Mike Slive's command, coach Bruce Pearl retreats into his banishment.

He will emerge after four games, Jan. 22 at Connecticut, then go back into the shadows for four more.

Whether Tennessee can maintain its precious new momentum in Pearl's absence remains to be seen.

But say this for the Vols: They sure gave Pearl a nice going-away present.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6267. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 38

cwbytruckers writes:

great job guys

Vol_from_birth writes:

hope the big wins will be enough to outweigh the bad losses come March assuming the Vols play decent in the SEC.

tnvol4ever writes:

That was easy! Next

tnvol4ever writes:

in response to WEAREBETTERTHANVANDY:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

cheese with your whine?

tnvol4ever writes:

in response to WEAREBETTERTHANVANDY:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

WEAREBETTERTHANPITTNOVAMEMPHIS

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to WEAREBETTERTHANVANDY:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Jealous, jealous, jealous................

and pathetic.............................

TROLL..........TROLL..............TROLL

murrayvol writes:

Reports of the Vols death were greatly exaggerated.

Jediphysics writes:

Watching last night's game just made me madder that this team isn't playing up to potential. It's like watching one of Jerry Green's last teams. So deep, so apathetic. Still it's always good to see Memphis go down in flames and here's hoping Scotty Hopson isn't the second coming of Vincent Yarborough

TommyJack writes:

An azz whuppin of epic proportion.

carbonzip writes:

Great play...all business. Crisper passing, better use of Williams, good defense. Keep going!

johnlg00 writes:

No question the Vols were hitting on all cylinders last night. The defensive intensity was on the level they showed against Nova and Pitt and the three-point shooting was breathtaking. The thing about the threes that was noticeably different last night was that most of them followed passes into the paint. The defense was sucked in and the passes were delivered to the open shooters in rhythm. When they do that consistently, the Vols can play with any team in the country. They won't likely make such a high percentage of them every night, but they certainly CAN keep doing what they were doing last night to set them up.

tmartin writes:

Its amazing what can happen when you only let legitimate players on the floor.

BobbyGraham writes:

in response to tmartin:

Its amazing what can happen when you only let legitimate players on the floor.

i assume that you are bashing Steven Pearl with that comment. i suppose that you are the kind of guy who thought Dane Bradshaw should have been benched as well. i'm even willing to bet that belittled Aaron Green back when he was the heart and soul of our team.

sambad writes:

in response to BobbyGraham:

i assume that you are bashing Steven Pearl with that comment. i suppose that you are the kind of guy who thought Dane Bradshaw should have been benched as well. i'm even willing to bet that belittled Aaron Green back when he was the heart and soul of our team.

Some of us know that S P can't make a basket unless he is under it. Green and Bradshaw were good in a lot of different ways. Maybe you should take a serious look at S P before you start with your biased opinions. He drove to the basket in a recent game and his layup bounced off of the backboard and came down at the head of the circle. What touch. I was thrilled that his Dad kept him on the bench until the contest was well decided.

tmartin writes:

in response to BobbyGraham:

i assume that you are bashing Steven Pearl with that comment. i suppose that you are the kind of guy who thought Dane Bradshaw should have been benched as well. i'm even willing to bet that belittled Aaron Green back when he was the heart and soul of our team.

Green?? No way. He single handily beat Florida one year. But you wouldnt recall a game like that. You are probably the type of person that has one career game in a meaningless pick up tournament wearing a Shaq jersey and all of sudden has basketball knowledge.

volsfan74 writes:

Fundamentals wins games! Good Passing, good rebounding (boxing out/ putting a body on a guy), not rushing shots and solid defense. Also more proof that Pastner can NOT coach a lick!

rbut5252#220065 writes:

3 wins over ranked teams???.....I really never considered Tigerghigh a Top 25 team. They can now return to their lair for a long winter's nap and not be heard from again until they re-appear perhaps in the NIT in the spring.

tennrich1 writes:

in response to WEAREBETTERTHANVANDY:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Have no idea what this post said...refuse to read this pathetic person....

VolunteerLifer writes:

A terrific win, but we've seen this before. This team has all the basic components to be a very good team. Everything, that is, except a consistent mental toughness and focus. Will they have it now? Will this win get them on the track? We shall see. I sure hope so.

BigOrangeBoss writes:

Great Job Coach to bounce back and defend the home turf. Any one can beat a team by laying back in a zone and admitting that they cant stop us. Now we are passed that and we will play teams that should be close to our level. Now you will see just how talented we are and how much work the coaching staff puts into preparing for these games. Lets Go Big Orange.

pj_ladyvolnMI writes:

This pic of Melvin in the middle makes me smile...it's great to see him taking leadership this year. And I love watching the guys hug him to their chest. He's 5'11", but it makes him look 5'4" from my shorter perspective. (No offense, Melvin...my husband would look the same.) Proud of all of our guys today for finding a way out of their slump. Here's to hoping they know how to stay there during SEC play. Go Vols!

richvol writes:

Rebounding...ain't it great. I only saw one instance last night where everyone took off for the other end after the ball left the shooter's hand. That is the biggest difference in UT's ability to win on any given night...along with shooting over 50% of course.

brod writes:

that is what we have here. a schizo team. sometimes functional, sometimes not.

cargen#1339565 writes:

How do you like Bruce today? We won so he is the great maestro today, however he was crummy for the mid-majors when we were sleep walking on the court. There should be a law against that on Summits court. He found his rotation for the season tonight, play your strength longer even if the bench cries and bellyaches about playing time. Attitude will win over ability if the mind set is proper. Give me somebody that wants to dig it out with a good attitude over the star that dogs it half of the time. Williams correct your thinking time without that short dribble
Go up with the sucker.

BigOSammO writes:

This team will be the hottest team behind Duke, entering the tournament -- Although, we won't be seeded that way.

We play up to our competition and or the media hype attached to the particular game. It pains me to know how good they are, yet we have to watch them lay around and pout through 3/4 of the games against mediocre teams, then turn it on and try to pull it out in the last 5 min. B Williams should not see the floor unless the game has implications. Loved him last night, cussed him the previous 4 games.

Back to implications. If the game has meaning, and/ or the media hypes up our opponent enough, this is a team to bet on everytime...

Preseason NIT - Implications: A win and you advance. Win, win, win, Champs.

Nova - They're better than us? They're ranked above us? Win.

Pitt - Big East best Conf?..." " "...Win.

Memphis - Trash talking, Recruiting wars, They're ranked above us? Media picks them? Win.

SEC - They're taking our coach away and people are questioning Tony Jones and our resilience? 7-1

I like this team. If I could pick 5 teams to lay down my dollars on for March, I'd go Duke, TN, Cuse, Mich State, Ohio State.

Also, somebody spend some time and create some Twitter accounts in the names of the top players of our upcoming opponents. Talk trash from these accounts specifically to Melvin Goins and B Williams. They feed off of this junk. When these 2 are fired up, we win. Scotty and Tobias are steady for the most part.

GBO.

N2Motorsports writes:

Always good to beat the University of Memphis State University. Loved watching the Vols beat Memphis State at "Boo Ball"

tmartin writes:

in response to cargen#1339565:

How do you like Bruce today? We won so he is the great maestro today, however he was crummy for the mid-majors when we were sleep walking on the court. There should be a law against that on Summits court. He found his rotation for the season tonight, play your strength longer even if the bench cries and bellyaches about playing time. Attitude will win over ability if the mind set is proper. Give me somebody that wants to dig it out with a good attitude over the star that dogs it half of the time. Williams correct your thinking time without that short dribble
Go up with the sucker.

Summitt Court???? I agree with honoring her by naming the court. However, they havent exaclty busted it lately either. And you need to realize it is the men's house because it was built for and paid for by men's b ball. It was designed to be one seat bigger than Rupp, thats because of men. All the success the women ever had never generated the interest or money to turn it into the arena it is today. That came possible because of recent success of mens team. The men pay the price with high ticket prices and you can get into a womens game for a can of soup on most nights.

carbonzip writes:

Everybody appeared to square up on their jump shots. Only bad play that stood out to me was the three Hopson took from the top of the key. Nobody followed the shot. They all retreated on defense and there was no rebounder in the area. Didn't matter in this game, but something to watch out for. Good game!

carbonzip writes:

I also enjoyed the mid-range 2-point jump shots the team made. An added dimension on offense.

TommyJack writes:

in response to tmartin:

Summitt Court???? I agree with honoring her by naming the court. However, they havent exaclty busted it lately either. And you need to realize it is the men's house because it was built for and paid for by men's b ball. It was designed to be one seat bigger than Rupp, thats because of men. All the success the women ever had never generated the interest or money to turn it into the arena it is today. That came possible because of recent success of mens team. The men pay the price with high ticket prices and you can get into a womens game for a can of soup on most nights.

Misogynist must?

rockytopatl writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Misogynist must?

LOL, TJ. You'll have to define that for most of the posters.

BobbyGraham writes:

in response to tmartin:

Green?? No way. He single handily beat Florida one year. But you wouldnt recall a game like that. You are probably the type of person that has one career game in a meaningless pick up tournament wearing a Shaq jersey and all of sudden has basketball knowledge.

It wasnt the Shaq jersey that carried me that day. It was the Reebok pumps i was wearing. And i have forgotten more about college basketball than you will ever know. You were pooping yellow when Carlos Groves squared off with Shaquille Oneal for crying out loud.

toldyouthatspsuckedfor3years writes:

Bruce finally cut his rotation down, benched his son,gave the starters more minutes, and just look at what happened. I was wondering how many losses and heat on him it would take before he benched his son. I guess the answer is four. If this team is successful, and the heat eases up on Bruce, then Steven will be back in there at the end of the year. If they lose several games in SEC play and the heat increases on Bruce then Steven will not see any significant minutes.

murrayvol writes:

in response to toldyouthatspsuckedfor3years:

Bruce finally cut his rotation down, benched his son,gave the starters more minutes, and just look at what happened. I was wondering how many losses and heat on him it would take before he benched his son. I guess the answer is four. If this team is successful, and the heat eases up on Bruce, then Steven will be back in there at the end of the year. If they lose several games in SEC play and the heat increases on Bruce then Steven will not see any significant minutes.

You can rest assured that neither "heat" nor losses had anything to do with Steven Pearl's playing time vs Memphis.

murrayvol writes:

in response to rockytopatl:

LOL, TJ. You'll have to define that for most of the posters.

TJ knows lots of words....and he uses them sparingly.

rudy123 writes:

in response to WEAREBETTERTHANVANDY:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Pearl will be gone soon enough. I know that you will be pleased. I was listening to 104.5 on the radio in Nashville today. Former Vandy & USC coach, Eddie Fogler, said "On a scale of 1 to 10, I believe that the NCAA will punish U.T. a 9 1/2. They know that all coaches are watching to see what the punishment is for lying to the NCAA. The NCAA can't go easy on this. The NCAA can't fire Pearl, but they can punish U.T. so much, that they will fire him. No post-season play, no t.v., loss of scholarships and suspending Pearl for a year.
The only reason that U.T. hasn't fired Pearl yet is because they are waiting on the NCAA ruling. If the ruling is harsh enough, they will fire Pearl for "Just Cause" and not owe him any money."
Once the NCAA sanctions are on us, we won't be able to hire a good coach. So, those years of recruiting will be lost. Once we are off of the sanctions, we will hire a better coach but it will take years to rebuild the program.
I expect this post season to be our last post-season for 7 or 8 years.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to pj_ladyvolnMI:

This pic of Melvin in the middle makes me smile...it's great to see him taking leadership this year. And I love watching the guys hug him to their chest. He's 5'11", but it makes him look 5'4" from my shorter perspective. (No offense, Melvin...my husband would look the same.) Proud of all of our guys today for finding a way out of their slump. Here's to hoping they know how to stay there during SEC play. Go Vols!

Actually, several TV commentators have said that Goins looks to be more like 5'9", which makes his vertical leap, said to be the best on the team at about 40"[!], even more astounding.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to carbonzip:

Everybody appeared to square up on their jump shots. Only bad play that stood out to me was the three Hopson took from the top of the key. Nobody followed the shot. They all retreated on defense and there was no rebounder in the area. Didn't matter in this game, but something to watch out for. Good game!

This team is still not consistently good at the kind of fundamental things you mentioned, both mentally and physically. Although the execution was better overall than it has been lately, the Vols still did a number of things that really good teams and players just don't do under any circumstances.

Since they aren't playing an especially fast style this year, they can't afford to waste ANY possessions against ANY opponent, yet they still manage to fumble away up to a dozen of them per game even when they are not being especially pressured by the opponents.

Perfection is not possible but it should always be the goal. At the least, that should mean having a valid objective in mind at all times on the court. Some things just shouldn't be tried, even if they work on occasion.

In fairness to the Vols, they are not the only team these days that seems to have a hazy grasp of the mental and physical fundamentals of the game.

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