Mike Strange: Plenty of questions remain, but first step at least shows direction

Mike Strange
ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee guard Cameron Tatum is applauded by coach Cuonzo Martin for a defensive effort against Carson-Newman at Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011

ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee guard Cameron Tatum is applauded by coach Cuonzo Martin for a defensive effort against Carson-Newman at Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday.

Cuonzo Martin on Tennessee's win

Tennessee basketball got a fresh start Thursday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. An exhibition losing streak has been nipped in the bud.

OK, under the circumstances, perhaps that surprising loss to the University of Indianapolis last November wasn't foremost on everyone's mind as they settled into their seats.

Tobias Harris was settled into a courtside seat next to Melvin Goins. Nearby, the great Dale Ellis was settled into a seat. Like everyone else, they were curious what direction UT basketball was about to take now that the wildly popular Bruce Pearl Show has been shut down.

Over on the Carson-Newman College bench, even coach Chuck Benson, a former UT aide, and his assistant Shane Williams, a former Vol point guard, were probably a little curious.

And you know what, so was Cuonzo Martin.

A modest crowd that braved a rainy school night in the thick of football season greeted Tennessee's new head coach warmly upon his first introduction.

Martin, who played the college game at the highest level and has coached his own team for three years at Missouri State, fessed up to a case of butterflies.

There is always the nagging worry that you haven't done enough in preparation.

"For me as a coach,'' he said, "that'll never change.''

Things eventually turned out fine, a 73-52 exhibition victory over Carson-Newman.

The start, however, vindicated Martin's butterflies. Facing a zone defense, the Vols missed their first six field-goal tries and their first four free throws.

The Eagles went up 6-0 and their lead was still six points as the first half neared the midway point.

Tennessee nudged its way to a 39-30 halftime lead and the issue was never in serious doubt again.

I dragged the Indianapolis skeleton out of the closet to make a point. In college basketball, don't make too much of what you see in November or even December.

Last year's Tennessee team wasn't as bad as it looked getting snookered by a Division II team. Nor was it as good as it looked a month later shredding powerful Pittsburgh on the road.

So don't draw too many conclusions from the first night of the Martin Era.

This is a team on which pretty much every player with the possible exception of senior guard Cam Tatum is adapting to a new role.

"Things are gonna get better,'' said sophomore point guard Trae Golden. "We're a work in progress.

"Everybody still has find out their niche and find what they're good at.''

Tatum was joined in the starting lineup by four new faces: Golden and a trio — Kenny Hall, Jordan McRae and Jeronne Maymon — that was largely bench-bound last year under Pearl.

On the first night of the rest of their lives, Golden, Maymon and McRae were Tennessee's most productive players.

Maymon hustled up a double-double with 10 points and 15 rebounds. He also took two charges.

"I would imagine he's one of the toughest guys in this league,'' ventured Martin.

McRae was the leading scorer with 17 points, 12 of them strung together in the first half to give the Vols their first lead.

Golden scored an efficient 14 points and handled playmaking duties reasonably well with five assists and only one turnover.

"I hope the fans realize this is our first game,'' McRae said. "We only had one scrimmage against ourselves.

"I think we put on a really good showing for this to be our first step.''

The second step is Monday night, another exhibition against Lincoln Memorial.

One week from tonight, the Vols face the real deal, the season-opener against UNC-Greensboro.

Before they know it, they'll be off to Maui where heavyweights Duke, Memphis, and Michigan await.

"We tried to work together tonight with what we know,'' said Maymon. "It's gonna get better with time.

"We've obviously got a long way to go.''

This is looking like a case of long-term curiosity.

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

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Comments » 29

budd#207344 writes:

Thank you for a well thought out article about a team in transition. I do think they may surprise us like CBP did with Texas. But it truly is a work in progress

oldster writes:

This team is likely to meet or beat my expectations since I do not expect much out of them in terms of wins. They could not shoot last year and they probably will not be able to shoot this year either. Coaches can say what they want, but the ability to shoot the basketball is the hardest thing to find in today's game. Give me a shooter (not a scorer, a shooter) and, if he is willing to put out the effort, he can be taught to defend (See Chris Loften). However, teaching a defender to shoot? Almost impossible.

JimmyJoe writes:

Gonna be a long season guys....

keepitreal4vols writes:

Glad to see Hall, Maymon, McRae and Swiperboy get good minutes. Not sure what they did to piss Pearl off.
Fix it now stuff:
McRae and McBee gonna have to shoot the 3 ALOT better.
Tatum had 4 turnovers, zero assists and never made it to the foul line.

shoalcreekvol writes:

Postgame and they are talking about toughness, defense and rebounding that's quite a change

Nice start guys. True Vol fans are behind you and will give you time to develop. Wear The Orange with pride and intensity.

voloffaith writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Oh boy.....he meant physicality(sp) wise not a 30 pt/game unstoppable player. Glass half-empty as usual for some poster children....

PHAT_VOL writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yea, He is serious, But your not. Maymon had it last year but never got to play enough to get into a grove.
Nice article,TKS

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

Carson Newman had no starter over 6ft 5 and a Big Man was not the leading scorer for UT? If Hall couldnt score 30 vs a 6'5 center then he's not gonna score in the SEC..

johnlg00 writes:

Some general impressions from the "dress rehearsal":
--Maymon and Golden in particular looked a lot trimmer and quicker than they did last year.
--Good energy and effort from everybody; much more attention to boxing out on the defensive boards than last year.
--More churning of the lineup than I expected from Martin's preseason comments, but with such a new/young team, he is probably still looking for the right combinations.
--Struggles against the zone were not unexpected; the team hasn't had much practice against them, since they don't run much zone themselves; even though there was not as much controlled penetration of the zone as I would have liked, at least the ball moved quicker around the perimeter than it did most of the time last year.
--Despite the strong game by Maymon, the post game is still deficient; expected more out of Hall and hoped for more from Woolridge.
--McRae tried to do too much on offense, Tatum tried to do too little; both need to find the happy medium before this team is as good as it can be, however "good" that is in relation to a tough schedule.
--Long way to go, but, as Confucius says, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I am satisfied that the first step is in the right direction.

westknoxrepub writes:

Look, excuse the last class all you want, but don't try to pretend they're capable of contending in the SEC or going to make the tournament, they're not. Our success this year depends on how Pearl's guys develop. The concern I have is that next year's class is looking like more of the same, and there's not an excuse. You can come up with the usual lines about how the star system is flawed, but I don't see other quality programs offering these guys scholarships, which either means Martin is the greatest evaluator of talent in the history of college basketball, or every other coach that took a team to the NCAA tournament last year doesn't think these guys are going to help them get back. He'll get four years, but I think it may be at least a decade before we get back to the NCAA tournament.

underthehill writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Carson Newman had no starter over 6ft 5 and a Big Man was not the leading scorer for UT? If Hall couldnt score 30 vs a 6'5 center then he's not gonna score in the SEC..

My bit of optimism for this team is based on what Hall does..I was hoping he would step up..definitely has the ability to score ..Did not attend the game so I don't know why he did not get more shots..but this team desperately needs Hall to produce more points and rebounds..as for Maymon..he will get his rebounds and play tough defense..he may have trouble staying out of foul trouble but no one will intimidate Maymon and Maymon will not back down when challenged...Hall and Woolridge have to play more like Maymon..Martin sees this..

johnlg00 writes:

in response to underthehill:

My bit of optimism for this team is based on what Hall does..I was hoping he would step up..definitely has the ability to score ..Did not attend the game so I don't know why he did not get more shots..but this team desperately needs Hall to produce more points and rebounds..as for Maymon..he will get his rebounds and play tough defense..he may have trouble staying out of foul trouble but no one will intimidate Maymon and Maymon will not back down when challenged...Hall and Woolridge have to play more like Maymon..Martin sees this..

Since utsports.com had the video broadcast of the game, I did see most of it. Carson-Newman played zone nearly the whole game because they gave up a lot of height to the Vols. This kept the ball mostly out of Hall's hands. The team didn't play well against the zone because they don't normally see it in practice, being a man-to-man team themselves.

Also, there was a lot more shuffling of players in this exhibition game than Martin said he plans to do once the season starts. Once the Vols decide on a starting lineup, which I am confident will include Hall, and put in a specific zone offense, I expect Hall will get more shots.

I agree that Maymon was a pleasant surprise. He seemed much quicker and more under control than he was last year. His free-throw shooting actually looks decent after his 20%(!) at the line last year.

givehim6 writes:

Nice win over power house CN. Well UT once again needs a good BB season to take there minds off a disappointing football season. CBD was good about lifting UT's spirts in BB, it's your turn CM. A win over C N is agood start buddy.

arkyvol writes:

no doubt cuonzo is a decent fellow. i wish him well, not the least of my reasons being that he is not another one of hapless, hopeless, hammy's heirlooms. but, let's face it. he's following the equivalent of abe lincoln, bear bryant, tony larussa, etc., the only coach in tennessee history who raised men's basketball above being a winter fill in till spring practice. (and don't mention mears--i was there, like watching paint dry). the b.ball gods just don't like the vols.

murrayvol writes:

in response to arkyvol:

no doubt cuonzo is a decent fellow. i wish him well, not the least of my reasons being that he is not another one of hapless, hopeless, hammy's heirlooms. but, let's face it. he's following the equivalent of abe lincoln, bear bryant, tony larussa, etc., the only coach in tennessee history who raised men's basketball above being a winter fill in till spring practice. (and don't mention mears--i was there, like watching paint dry). the b.ball gods just don't like the vols.

They don't have much time for Pearl either.

oldster writes:

in response to keepitreal4vols:

Glad to see Hall, Maymon, McRae and Swiperboy get good minutes. Not sure what they did to piss Pearl off.
Fix it now stuff:
McRae and McBee gonna have to shoot the 3 ALOT better.
Tatum had 4 turnovers, zero assists and never made it to the foul line.

Hall had and still has no offense and committed more than a foul per minute of playing time. McRae had a bad attitude and foul mouth (remember the issue on the bus?). Swiperboy could not and cannot shoot, rebound or play defense. Other than that, I can think of nothing that Pearl had against them. Forget the Mac brothers shooting better. We keep hearing how well they both, and McBee in particular, really knocks them down in practice, but neither can hit the broad side of a barn when the lights come on.

oldster writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

He said one of the toughest, not one of the best. Please do not extropolate from the statement made.

oldster writes:

in response to underthehill:

My bit of optimism for this team is based on what Hall does..I was hoping he would step up..definitely has the ability to score ..Did not attend the game so I don't know why he did not get more shots..but this team desperately needs Hall to produce more points and rebounds..as for Maymon..he will get his rebounds and play tough defense..he may have trouble staying out of foul trouble but no one will intimidate Maymon and Maymon will not back down when challenged...Hall and Woolridge have to play more like Maymon..Martin sees this..

Upon what evidence do you base your statement that Hall "definitely has the ability to score?" I have never seen him show the ability to do anything but foul. If Woolridge and Hall play more like Maymon, UT will lead the league in fouls and disqualifications due to fouls.

oldster writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Since utsports.com had the video broadcast of the game, I did see most of it. Carson-Newman played zone nearly the whole game because they gave up a lot of height to the Vols. This kept the ball mostly out of Hall's hands. The team didn't play well against the zone because they don't normally see it in practice, being a man-to-man team themselves.

Also, there was a lot more shuffling of players in this exhibition game than Martin said he plans to do once the season starts. Once the Vols decide on a starting lineup, which I am confident will include Hall, and put in a specific zone offense, I expect Hall will get more shots.

I agree that Maymon was a pleasant surprise. He seemed much quicker and more under control than he was last year. His free-throw shooting actually looks decent after his 20%(!) at the line last year.

The fact that the team has not worked against a zone because they do not use one themselves is probably one reason that they did not do well against one, last night. However, saying that he did not expect one, scares me about the coach. Our team could not shoot last year. Last year's team struggled against zones beause they could not shoot. He recruited no shooters. Therefore, there should have been no expectation that the team would shoot better and that an opponent would run a zone. This inability to shoot and the height disarity should have all but told the coach that he was going to see a zone. I might also add that one of the advantages of running a motion offense is that it can and should be run as well vs a zone as a man.

samvol writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Carson Newman had no starter over 6ft 5 and a Big Man was not the leading scorer for UT? If Hall couldnt score 30 vs a 6'5 center then he's not gonna score in the SEC..

I saw the bigs wide open in the post waving and screaming for a pass inside...they never got it.

VolzsFan writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I am sure Martin has forgotten more about tough than you can ever imagine. The SEC or any other conference will not scare him. He went a long way as a player and a coach with Perdue. They will be fine. No get back to work. Another car just pulled up to get washed.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I thought it was a nice exhibition game. I didn't really expect a lot more (even though my predictions don't reflect this). The coach was obviously doing some experimentation with the lineup and I'd think we all expected that. Maybe Monday night he'll tighten the subbing up a little. I don't think we'll be complaining about McCrae scoring whenever he wants later in the season(I hope). I don't think anyone can stop him when he decides to score. At least I want to believe. Golden was a big surprise to me. He was nothing like last year both in confidence and in controlling the team. Washpun looked like what he is, a freshman. Tatum aaaaaaghggghghgh! Woolridge made me a believer when he gave up a shot to make an assist!!? Yeah Swiper!! Maymon still can't finish at the rim but he will! He sure has the boards down against CN. Hall? I did read John's points about Hall and I agree but c'mon Hall you have to make yourself known. You have to be a force. I did see a lot of bullying by the much smaller CN squad and at times it was funny to see them bounce off Hall and at times it wasn't funny to see Hall disappear. But mostly it was what it was supposed to be. An exhibition. Not even a real game. Same coming Monday night. But it was fun to watch. At least for me.

Ironcity writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

Look, excuse the last class all you want, but don't try to pretend they're capable of contending in the SEC or going to make the tournament, they're not. Our success this year depends on how Pearl's guys develop. The concern I have is that next year's class is looking like more of the same, and there's not an excuse. You can come up with the usual lines about how the star system is flawed, but I don't see other quality programs offering these guys scholarships, which either means Martin is the greatest evaluator of talent in the history of college basketball, or every other coach that took a team to the NCAA tournament last year doesn't think these guys are going to help them get back. He'll get four years, but I think it may be at least a decade before we get back to the NCAA tournament.

The class has not been completed yet. Why the panic? sit back and see with your own eyes what you think? I have no idea what to expect. I know we have plenty of players who were talented in High School. I know we have a number of players who can jump through the roof.

I will pass judgment at the end of the season. I will be stunned if this team looks like its in midseason form in Hawaii. They are leaning a new offense, learning a new defensea and learning each other. I will judge this team by the results and what my eyes tell me. I will also judge the players martin and UT recruited by what I see. Not what some clown rated them.

That said I would love to see Stokes or someone with his pedigree come to UT. I think that would go a long way towards solidifying Martins program and put us in position to really pick up steam next year.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

Gonna be a long season guys....

Huh? really? You think we'll go far? Huh really!! I think you're being a little over optimistic.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to oldster:

The fact that the team has not worked against a zone because they do not use one themselves is probably one reason that they did not do well against one, last night. However, saying that he did not expect one, scares me about the coach. Our team could not shoot last year. Last year's team struggled against zones beause they could not shoot. He recruited no shooters. Therefore, there should have been no expectation that the team would shoot better and that an opponent would run a zone. This inability to shoot and the height disarity should have all but told the coach that he was going to see a zone. I might also add that one of the advantages of running a motion offense is that it can and should be run as well vs a zone as a man.

I didn't see in the article where Martin said he didn't expect CN to use a zone, but if you saw or heard it somewhere, I'll take your word for it. In any case, it DOES make a difference how much you practice against a zone, even if, as you say, the basic motion offense can work against both man and zone defenses. There was also a good deal more shuffling players in and out than Martin said he plans to do during the season. When the starting lineup is set and the players get more time on the court together, they should have more consistency and continuity on offense against any defense.

Except for McBee continuing to put them up after starting 2-for-2, I thought the shooting looked pretty good in spots. Golden and Richardson in particular looked pretty confident on their shots. We know Tatum CAN make them even though he didn't shoot it well the other night. Some nights McBee might make 'em all. I don't especially look forward to McRae shooting a lot of threes, but if he can settle down a little bit, he might be okay at it.

Another thing that occurred to me is that they have been practicing a LOT in weighted vests. That is one reason why they looked so quick at times on defense, but the touch on outside shots is very sensitive to differences in how much lift and follow-through you get when you take them off. I think they will probably shed those vests as the season goes on and the shooting might well improve. More game experience will also help.

Finally, this is a BRAND-NEW TEAM, playing together in public for the FIRST time. First-game jitters are common even for veteran teams. It is easy to dwell on negatives, but I saw grounds to believe that they will get better. Not championship-level better, maybe not even NCAA-tourney-level better, but better than many may think right now.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Ironcity:

The class has not been completed yet. Why the panic? sit back and see with your own eyes what you think? I have no idea what to expect. I know we have plenty of players who were talented in High School. I know we have a number of players who can jump through the roof.

I will pass judgment at the end of the season. I will be stunned if this team looks like its in midseason form in Hawaii. They are leaning a new offense, learning a new defensea and learning each other. I will judge this team by the results and what my eyes tell me. I will also judge the players martin and UT recruited by what I see. Not what some clown rated them.

That said I would love to see Stokes or someone with his pedigree come to UT. I think that would go a long way towards solidifying Martins program and put us in position to really pick up steam next year.

I agree with your post, but I don't disagree with anybody who says Martin needs to recruit better players going forward, though anybody who expected that so soon is probably delusional. With another year to develop contacts and show what the team can do on the court, his chances of getting some better players may well improve.

flatrock writes:

in response to arkyvol:

no doubt cuonzo is a decent fellow. i wish him well, not the least of my reasons being that he is not another one of hapless, hopeless, hammy's heirlooms. but, let's face it. he's following the equivalent of abe lincoln, bear bryant, tony larussa, etc., the only coach in tennessee history who raised men's basketball above being a winter fill in till spring practice. (and don't mention mears--i was there, like watching paint dry). the b.ball gods just don't like the vols.

Well, I am going to mention Mears. I will take him over Bruce (Me) Pearl any day of the week. Please man-up and go tell Justus, King and Grunfeld that their Vols were merely "winter fill-ins"...I'd like to be there when you tell them!

arkyvol writes:

in response to flatrock:

Well, I am going to mention Mears. I will take him over Bruce (Me) Pearl any day of the week. Please man-up and go tell Justus, King and Grunfeld that their Vols were merely "winter fill-ins"...I'd like to be there when you tell them!

i was there for that one too. biggest waste of talent since pickett's charge. i don't have an almanac handy, so tell me again, just how far did that talent laden, mears coached team make it in the tourney.

sheep writes:

in response to oldster:

Hall had and still has no offense and committed more than a foul per minute of playing time. McRae had a bad attitude and foul mouth (remember the issue on the bus?). Swiperboy could not and cannot shoot, rebound or play defense. Other than that, I can think of nothing that Pearl had against them. Forget the Mac brothers shooting better. We keep hearing how well they both, and McBee in particular, really knocks them down in practice, but neither can hit the broad side of a barn when the lights come on.

ALready this year, people who have not looked at the stats from last year. Mcbee was 2ND on the team last year with many fewer attempts from three. Against LMU when Jordan was invisible, Mcbee was 4of6, with 11 points. Last year he had to shoot from 35 feet, or when he had to force one as the shot clock was going off. THis year WILL be different. He will have plays ran for him, and will knock them down. He was 40% during preseason from 3 (5of12). Just hang on, it will all work out.
BAAAAAAAAAAAA. Mcbee for three Says the Sheep.

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