Mike Strange: Louisiana Monroe to Duke a mountain of difference

Mike Strange
Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin talks with forward forward Jordan McRae (52) and guard Skylar McBee (13) at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011.  Tennessee won the game 85-62 over Louisiana-Monroe.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin talks with forward forward Jordan McRae (52) and guard Skylar McBee (13) at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011. Tennessee won the game 85-62 over Louisiana-Monroe.

Cuonzo Martin on Tennessee's 85-62 win over La. Monroe

What's the steepest climb in college basketball? One possibility: from Louisiana Monroe to Duke.

We'll check back with Tennessee next week for a definitive answer.

The Vols are about to undergo a breathtaking change in altitude — not to mention latitude and longitude.

Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena, Tennessee was dilly-dallying with the Warhawks from ULM for the longest time. The Warhawks haven't ever been around for that "One Shining Moment" scene, at least not that I can recall.

This was supposed to be a blowout, even for a team with Tennessee's modest projections. Wrong. It was 33-33 at halftime. Five minutes into the second half, ULM led 46-44.

"It was a good test,'' UT coach Cuonzo Martin said later, "to gauge the body language.

"You're expected to beat somebody by 30 points and it doesn't happen.''

This night, the Vols passed the body-language test. They roared away at the finish for an 85-62 victory. With 14 seconds left Dwight Miller even stole the ball and raced for a dunk that covered the 21.5-point spread.

The Vols are on a plane today, headed to the Maui Invitational and a Monday date with Duke.

Paradise awaits. But so does certain adversity. Tennessee's body-language is about to face a sterner test.

"You see Duke everywhere,'' said junior guard Skylar McBee, "but I don't think we're gonna hold 'em up on a pedestal.''

We see Duke in the Final Four. We see Duke cutting down nets. We saw Duke ad nauseam on Tuesday night as coach Mike Krzyzewski gained his 903rd coaching victory, breaking mentor Bobby Knight's record for Division I men's coaches.

At least Coach K got that business out of the way and the Vols won't become a historic footnote.

"One less thing to think about,'' McBee acknowledged.

Back to the Warhawks, though. It's obvious Tennessee didn't put ULM on a pedestal.

The Vols were sloppy in the first half. Shots came too quick, turnovers too often. ULM, a program with only nine scholarships due to NCAA academic penalties, just kept hanging around and making baskets.

At halftime, Martin didn't peel the paint off the locker room wall, though he would have been justified in doing so.

"He was cool, calm and collected,'' said McBee, "just like his personality. He stayed positive.''

That last part, staying positive, is big with McBee, who looks forward to being a consistent contributor for the new regime.

He certainly was against ULM. McBee scored a career-high 15 points, hitting a career-high five 3-point baskets. That's the most treys by a UT shooter since Scotty Hopson hit five two years ago this week.

"It's two things,'' McBee said. "One is knowing my role.

"Two is Coach Martin's confidence in me, knowing when I've got an open shot I can take it.''

He got open shots because he ran the floor hard and because his teammates, Trae Golden in particular, did a good job of finding him.

McBee's fourth trey cut into a 41-37 Warhawk lead. His fifth capped a 9-0 run that erased ULM's final lead and put the Vols up 55-48.

By that point, the body language was good, on the court and in the previously silent stands.

"We knew we didn't play up to our potential in the first half,'' McBee said. "I think we responded well.

"We've got a lot of young guys but we stayed positive and picked each other up.''

The guess here is that Duke won't be as likely to wilt in the final 10 minutes. But stranger things have happened.

One even happened in Thompson-Boling Arena two years ago when the undermanned Vols shocked No. 1 Kansas. McBee, then an unheralded freshman, made the biggest shot of them all that night.

Is it a stretch to think that experience might come in handy when Tennessee plays David again to Duke's Goliath?

"It's good to have seen the talent and atmosphere of a game like that,'' McBee said.

"It's about stepping up to a challenge.''

From here to there, it's one heckuva step.

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

© 2011 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 29

WhoIsJohnGalt writes:

"Louisiana Monroe to Duke a mountain of difference"

Thanks, Tips. Brilliant insight on your part.

wsmows writes:

If they ever do a Raisin Arizona remake,Tyler looks alot like Cage.so theres that.

SummittsCourt writes:

Tennessee beats Duke!

skm writes:

omg, mcrae is a forward forward. that must mean what?

lomas98 writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Maybe tn can watch long beach state film on how to beat Pitt from last night. They even lost at home. Anybody can be beat in basketball. While I don't expect this team to roll off win after win, they are at least playing hard. At some point their lack of post play will hurt them, probably starting with duke.

westknoxrepub writes:

We beat two bad teams (and struggled with one) and now we're somehow going to beat Duke, Memphis and/or Michigan. This team is going to win about 12 games, 4 in the SEC and miss out on the post season because Hamilton went to the Bargain bin for a basketball coach.

volfanmatt writes:

Hey WestknoxNellie, what is your problem with coach Martin? Why not give him some support and see how he does before you start with the negativity? I think your memory is short on how poor the future outlook was when Pearl was fired. With the looming unknowns and possible serious sanctions, most coaches wouldn't have given Tennessee a second thought. I think coach Martin comes from a good background and I do like what he accomplished at his previous school. So for once why not try to be positive and not a negative Nellie. Your negativity gets really really old man.

Volunatic writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

We beat two bad teams (and struggled with one) and now we're somehow going to beat Duke, Memphis and/or Michigan. This team is going to win about 12 games, 4 in the SEC and miss out on the post season because Hamilton went to the Bargain bin for a basketball coach.

Mere speculation.
Now for a fact:
2-0.
GO VOLS!!!

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

Tennessee beats Duke!

Smokey wwants to know what kind of creamer is in your coffee?

Seriously, you have to be realistic..Either you are being sarcastic or you actually really believe that..Hopefully it is the aforementioned.

VolMoment writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

We beat two bad teams (and struggled with one) and now we're somehow going to beat Duke, Memphis and/or Michigan. This team is going to win about 12 games, 4 in the SEC and miss out on the post season because Hamilton went to the Bargain bin for a basketball coach.

If you were a true fan, oh wait its hard to be a true fan when you are only 6 yrs. old IQ.
Where did Ray Mears and Bruce Pearl come from? What Tennessee fan had heard of them before their arrival?

westknoxrepub writes:

in response to VolMoment:

If you were a true fan, oh wait its hard to be a true fan when you are only 6 yrs. old IQ.
Where did Ray Mears and Bruce Pearl come from? What Tennessee fan had heard of them before their arrival?

Mears was hired in a different era when very few teams made it into the tournament. Pearl had taken a team to teh Sweet 16 when he was hired and had a resume light years ahead of Martin's.

westknoxrepub writes:

in response to volfanmatt:

Hey WestknoxNellie, what is your problem with coach Martin? Why not give him some support and see how he does before you start with the negativity? I think your memory is short on how poor the future outlook was when Pearl was fired. With the looming unknowns and possible serious sanctions, most coaches wouldn't have given Tennessee a second thought. I think coach Martin comes from a good background and I do like what he accomplished at his previous school. So for once why not try to be positive and not a negative Nellie. Your negativity gets really really old man.

My problem is he's recruiting kids who have no business on an SEC roster and are not going to help us win SEC Championships. After Pearl's recruits there is a SEVERE drop off in talent. These kids are not going to compete with Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Arkansas to help us win SEC Titles and get to the NCAA tournament. We're the only SEC school to even offer any of these guys. We're competing with Central Florida, Wright State, and Jacksonville for recruits. That's not a good sign, and I don't see us making any sort of post season in the next three years.

budd#207344 writes:

One of the reasons that I love to visit this board is all the head coaches who write in with their experience and knowledge of the sport we are discussing here.I never knew there was this much coaching knowledge in Knoxville. It makes you wonder why we take so long to hire new coaches.

This team will get the chance to test itself against top tier opponents. They may not win but they will be able to see what they can do against this level of competition. I believe in what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I think that I will be happy if they are competitive through out the game. That means we have a system that works and coaches who can coach and players who will try very hard. That's all we can expect and if we get that we will be successful this year and following years.I do not expect to beat all the best right out of the box but playing them and winning some will build this program back to where it was a year or so ago.

lomas98 writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

My problem is he's recruiting kids who have no business on an SEC roster and are not going to help us win SEC Championships. After Pearl's recruits there is a SEVERE drop off in talent. These kids are not going to compete with Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Arkansas to help us win SEC Titles and get to the NCAA tournament. We're the only SEC school to even offer any of these guys. We're competing with Central Florida, Wright State, and Jacksonville for recruits. That's not a good sign, and I don't see us making any sort of post season in the next three years.

I agree somewhat about the caliber of players he is recruiting now. However, it will take some proof on the floor to make kids want to come here. Martin is a young coach who players aren't just going to say I have to go to TN and play for this guy, YET. His personality is not Pearl's. He has plenty of opportunities to show his product on national TN and then he has something to show to the better players. Unfortunately Martin also had the NCAA thing hanging over him while recruiting this first season. You say after Pearl's recruits? Who do you expect in his first season to play with other than Pearl's recruits?

I am concerned about the future of Martin if he continues to get players like he did last season. I think those kids would be playing at Missouri St. if he wasn't at TN. But he needed some bodies. I think it will be fair to give him a chance.

westknoxrepub writes:

in response to lomas98:

I agree somewhat about the caliber of players he is recruiting now. However, it will take some proof on the floor to make kids want to come here. Martin is a young coach who players aren't just going to say I have to go to TN and play for this guy, YET. His personality is not Pearl's. He has plenty of opportunities to show his product on national TN and then he has something to show to the better players. Unfortunately Martin also had the NCAA thing hanging over him while recruiting this first season. You say after Pearl's recruits? Who do you expect in his first season to play with other than Pearl's recruits?

I am concerned about the future of Martin if he continues to get players like he did last season. I think those kids would be playing at Missouri St. if he wasn't at TN. But he needed some bodies. I think it will be fair to give him a chance.

The kids this season are just as bad, if not worse than those he came in and signed. If we go on national TV and don't win it's not going to attract big name players. Surely there were better players available this year who would come to Tennessee instead of a guy we took from Central Florida.

Ironcity writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

We beat two bad teams (and struggled with one) and now we're somehow going to beat Duke, Memphis and/or Michigan. This team is going to win about 12 games, 4 in the SEC and miss out on the post season because Hamilton went to the Bargain bin for a basketball coach.

Struggled? We won by 23 and 29 points. I guess you just cut and past from some of your post prior to the season. UT likely wins one out of three at Maui but thats not the question the question is how do they play?

Volunatic writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

My problem is he's recruiting kids who have no business on an SEC roster and are not going to help us win SEC Championships. After Pearl's recruits there is a SEVERE drop off in talent. These kids are not going to compete with Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Arkansas to help us win SEC Titles and get to the NCAA tournament. We're the only SEC school to even offer any of these guys. We're competing with Central Florida, Wright State, and Jacksonville for recruits. That's not a good sign, and I don't see us making any sort of post season in the next three years.

How many Pearl recruits were in the latest class?
Zero.
He had two guys committed, but neither one ended up being academically eligible to play Division 1 basketball this year, even if they had kept their commitments to UT.
Cuonzo Martin recruited a few guys that he thought might fill needs. He didn't have much time to do it, but he addressed the most glaring depth issues with the recruits he got.
Recruiting to needs is more important than recruiting "stars".
See the Vol football recruiting class of February '09 for proof. Sure would have been nice to have a few more OLs and DLs there, wouldn't it? Even if they had been mere 3* recruits, they would have been able to be valuable contributors right now.
Vol basketball is 2-0.
GO VOLS!!!

lomas98 writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

The kids this season are just as bad, if not worse than those he came in and signed. If we go on national TV and don't win it's not going to attract big name players. Surely there were better players available this year who would come to Tennessee instead of a guy we took from Central Florida.

Using that logic, our football team will never attract any recruits. Yes, there were much better players available but unfortunately they were not considering TN even when Pearl was there. It's not like TN has a line of kids just lined up outside the door wanting to go there and we can pick and choose. Coaches aren't drafting like a playstation game, it is actually a two way street.

Volunatic writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

The kids this season are just as bad, if not worse than those he came in and signed. If we go on national TV and don't win it's not going to attract big name players. Surely there were better players available this year who would come to Tennessee instead of a guy we took from Central Florida.

Signing day happened well before the NCAA handed down its judgment.
I don't think there were many Vol fans that expected the judgment to be so light-- I GUARANTEE that every coach who Cuonzo Martin attempted to recruit against used the impending NCAA COI hearing as recruiting "ammunition".
How many top-notch recruits want to go to a school that isn't a traditional powerhouse with possible post-season ban (multi-year) hanging over their heads?
Get real.

lomas98 writes:

in response to Volunatic:

How many Pearl recruits were in the latest class?
Zero.
He had two guys committed, but neither one ended up being academically eligible to play Division 1 basketball this year, even if they had kept their commitments to UT.
Cuonzo Martin recruited a few guys that he thought might fill needs. He didn't have much time to do it, but he addressed the most glaring depth issues with the recruits he got.
Recruiting to needs is more important than recruiting "stars".
See the Vol football recruiting class of February '09 for proof. Sure would have been nice to have a few more OLs and DLs there, wouldn't it? Even if they had been mere 3* recruits, they would have been able to be valuable contributors right now.
Vol basketball is 2-0.
GO VOLS!!!

Good post about the Pearl recruits, which was similar to what I was saying in another. Pearl ran off Adonis Thomas last year with his NCAA troubles. Woolridge flat out failed to develop under Pearl and who knows what he can do this year. Kenny Hall I am convinced is lost.

We just can't expect Martin to come in and get a Calipari type class. IT WILL NOT HAPPEN. He needs time to show his style of play and hopefully recruits will notice, it seems players like him. I have been a little surprised in the first 2 games already as I thought we would be winning games in the 50's or 60's.

westknoxrepub writes:

in response to lomas98:

Using that logic, our football team will never attract any recruits. Yes, there were much better players available but unfortunately they were not considering TN even when Pearl was there. It's not like TN has a line of kids just lined up outside the door wanting to go there and we can pick and choose. Coaches aren't drafting like a playstation game, it is actually a two way street.

If you want to win the SEC Championship you've got to keep up with Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida, Alabama and Arkansas, and things will only get more difficult next year. With the calibur of recruit he's bringing in, we're not going to be contending for the title, we'll be lucky to have a winning season. If these guys are so good, how come nobody else in the SEC offered them a scholarship?

westknoxrepub writes:

in response to Volunatic:

Signing day happened well before the NCAA handed down its judgment.
I don't think there were many Vol fans that expected the judgment to be so light-- I GUARANTEE that every coach who Cuonzo Martin attempted to recruit against used the impending NCAA COI hearing as recruiting "ammunition".
How many top-notch recruits want to go to a school that isn't a traditional powerhouse with possible post-season ban (multi-year) hanging over their heads?
Get real.

Signing Day was also earlier this month and he signed to players who got zero offers from SEC schools. . .his recruiting isn't getting better.

lomas98 writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

If you want to win the SEC Championship you've got to keep up with Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida, Alabama and Arkansas, and things will only get more difficult next year. With the calibur of recruit he's bringing in, we're not going to be contending for the title, we'll be lucky to have a winning season. If these guys are so good, how come nobody else in the SEC offered them a scholarship?

You must not read when somebody replies back to you. I said I agree about the players he brought in. Nodoby offered them in the SEC. He also needed bodies in case current players bailed on him. What do you expect him to do? Get past the players he brought in, nothing can change that. If he continues to bring in those players in 3 years, we are in trouble. I don't have any way of knowing who will commit here then, I don't think you do either. give him time to make the rounds and earn some respect. If he makes good coaching decisions with lesser talent, the better players will see they can make a difference. Pearl brought Ryan Childress with him his first year and gave Steven Pearl, Josh Bone, and Skylar McBee scholarships eventually. Did any other SEC school recruit them? Kenny Hall and Woolridge were recruited by other schools.

Volunatic writes:

in response to lomas98:

You must not read when somebody replies back to you. I said I agree about the players he brought in. Nodoby offered them in the SEC. He also needed bodies in case current players bailed on him. What do you expect him to do? Get past the players he brought in, nothing can change that. If he continues to bring in those players in 3 years, we are in trouble. I don't have any way of knowing who will commit here then, I don't think you do either. give him time to make the rounds and earn some respect. If he makes good coaching decisions with lesser talent, the better players will see they can make a difference. Pearl brought Ryan Childress with him his first year and gave Steven Pearl, Josh Bone, and Skylar McBee scholarships eventually. Did any other SEC school recruit them? Kenny Hall and Woolridge were recruited by other schools.

Agreed. Ask Kevin O'Neill how well he was able to compete with 7 guys on the roster.

chuckfromwoodbury writes:

I love this time of the year. Football and basketball to cheer for. I'm growing a mustache to go with my Orange pants. GBO! VFL!!!!

VolJunkie writes:

in response to Ironcity:

Struggled? We won by 23 and 29 points. I guess you just cut and past from some of your post prior to the season. UT likely wins one out of three at Maui but thats not the question the question is how do they play?

Exactly right, the question is "how do they play". Too many head shaking wins last season; this year, different attitude and some positve trends even after just two games ... starting with number of assists, especially from the point position.

Go Vols!

sly_stone99#434111 writes:

Wes, I see your points, but I believe they are premature at this point. In Basketball one or two players can change a teams outlook. Coach Martin hasn't been given a fair assessment at this point considering what he walked into and the limited time he has been Coach of this team. Let's see if he makes progress first. At least he has had success at his last school. You cannot deny his resume is impressive. I think you're being overly judgemental based on his recruiting in short time frame. I'd love for him to get some McDonald AA's or a top 50 player, but I don't recall Pearl showering us with coveted recruiting classes. Again, I hear what you're saying, but what if Coach Martin coaches these guys up in a year or two to where they not only have perfected his motion offense, but understand the committment to playing defense. Wouldn't you think this would be a competitive team?

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

My problem is he's recruiting kids who have no business on an SEC roster and are not going to help us win SEC Championships. After Pearl's recruits there is a SEVERE drop off in talent. These kids are not going to compete with Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Arkansas to help us win SEC Titles and get to the NCAA tournament. We're the only SEC school to even offer any of these guys. We're competing with Central Florida, Wright State, and Jacksonville for recruits. That's not a good sign, and I don't see us making any sort of post season in the next three years.

If it is a problem, it's not your problem, it's CMM's problem. At this point, you have no idea how good or not good CMM's recruits are or are going to be because they are almost all FRESHMEN or still in high school and haven't had a chance to develop or prove themselves. Right now, you have no idea how well these recruits will do. One can hope for the best or, like you, start whining about it before you have reason to.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to westknoxrepub:

If you want to win the SEC Championship you've got to keep up with Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida, Alabama and Arkansas, and things will only get more difficult next year. With the calibur of recruit he's bringing in, we're not going to be contending for the title, we'll be lucky to have a winning season. If these guys are so good, how come nobody else in the SEC offered them a scholarship?

As I have said before, I, along with a lot of other REAL Vol fans, are more than tired of your relentless negativity about the basketball program. One term you use over and over in this barrage of disparagement describes what you see as the low "calibur" of his recruits. If you are going to use the word, at least use a REAL one. It is "calibEr"! "Calibur" is at best part of the name of King Arthur's sword "Excalibur". The words are not related. This is just a small indication of the low "calibur" of your posts. I seldom try to correct spelling and grammar on these posts anymore, but when I see someone who claims such superior knowledge of all things athletic use a wrong word over and over, that alone is almost enough to discount everything you post on here.

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