That’s not an indictment of Martin. It’s merely a state-of-the-program assessment following the departure of Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson, who have elected to enter the NBA draft rather than continue their college basketball careers at UT.
They leave behind what could be the worst basketball team in the SEC. At best, it will be closer to LSU, Auburn and South Carolina — who were a combined 12-36 in the conference this past season — than to Kentucky, which is about to reload with another NBA-bound recruiting class.
And there’s only so much Martin can do about it. He can demand effort, defense and teamwork. But he can’t coach the ball into the basket.
In fact, the next offense is more apt to remind you of another UT coach.
Fifty-point scores were commonplace during Kevin O’Neill’s three-year run in the mid-1990s. All that stands between a return to the 50s are a lot of maybes.
Maybe Cameron Tatum will rediscover his shooting touch. Maybe freshmen Trae Golden and Jordan McRae will suddenly blossom as sophomores. Maybe Renaldo Woolridge will start to play as well as he raps. Maybe one of Martin’s late recruits will play above his recruiting-service ranking.
If not, a really good defense might throw a shutout against these guys.
I’m not suggesting Harris & Hopson was an updated version of Ernie & Bernie. But they will leave a huge void in the scoring column.
Even with Harris and Hopson, the Vols’ offense was often agonizing to watch in 2010-11. Imagine the leftovers and newcomers without them, center Brian Williams, or point guard Melvin Goins — a foursome that included four of UT’s top five scorers. Moreover, Hopson and Harris averaged 32.3 points per game while the rest of the team averaged 37.6.
Offense won’t be Martin’s only concern. He still doesn’t know the price tag for UT’s NCAA violations, which led to Pearl’s dismissal. And given all that has gone wrong recently on athletic director Mike Hamilton’s watch, the new coach doesn’t even know how long his boss will be around.
Conference competition will be another concern. Kentucky will be loaded again. Vanderbilt should field its best team yet under coach Kevin Stallings, although you might assume it will lose once to UT just because it’s Vanderbilt. Florida will have to revamp its front line, but its experienced guard tandem returns, and two McDonald’s All-Americans are on the way.
In a best-case scenario, perhaps the Vols can hold their own against the likes of Georgia and South Carolina in the East and the second-tier teams from the West. Fans would expect little more if Martin had succeeded Buzz Peterson. But Pearl raised those expectations by scheduling and beating some of the best teams in the country while qualifying for six consecutive NCAA tournaments.
As the Vols draw closer to the 2011-12 season and move further from the Elite Eight of 2010, the Pearl era might seem more like a six-year dream, as though the program went from Peterson’s 14-17 team in 2004-05 to what’s coming next.
Hint: It won’t be pretty.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.