Key stretch has Vols in position to rise in SEC standings

Key stretch has Vols in position to rise in SEC standings

Cuonzo Martin talks about the Florida win

Cuonzo Martin tried to explain what he saw in his basketball team that made him confident Tennessee would beat Florida in the days leading up to Saturday's game.

"When players walk with a certain type of swagger, a level of confidence — not cockiness, not arrogance — they can play, and they can compete," the first-year Vols coach said after UT shocked No. 8 Florida in Gainesville, 75-70. "Before, we just weren't mentally ready."

Martin's not ready to get too carried away with his young team; especially not with an upcoming stretch run of games against teams for positions.

The Vols' 13-12 overall and 5-5 SEC mark has lifted them into a four-way tie for fifth-place in the SEC, well ahead of the 11th-place projection they were dealt at SEC Basketball Media Day in October.

UT plays host to Arkansas (17-8, 5-5) at 8 p.m. Wednesday (TV: MyVLT) at Thompson-Boling Arena before traveling to play at Alabama (16-8, 5-5) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Martin has taken to Twitter to urge Vols fans to turn out for the game against the Razorbacks. There was an announced (paid) attendance of 14,784 for UT's home win over South Carolina last Wednesday, but the arena appeared half empty.

"We need our fans, and we need their support to help get us over the hump," Martin said. "If our guys are giving effort, and they are leaving everything out on the floor, they deserve that support."

Wins this week would

strengthen the Vols' postseason résumé as they look to secure a spot in the NIT while also maintaining mathematical possibilities for an NCAA tournament at-large berth.

Tennessee's RPI rating is 110, 10th-best in the SEC, while the Vols rank No. 91 in the Sagarin USA Today computer ratings and No. 81 in Ken Pomeroy's computer rankings.

Martin had estimated at the start of the season it would take at least a year for him to get the program competing at an acceptable level.

But the Vols showed the makings of a tough, achieving unit on Saturday, playing solid defense and passing the ball unselfishly en route to snapping the Gators' 19-game home win streak.

"We're getting there right now," Martin said, asked if his team has arrived. "Once we get to the point where hard work is a way of life for them, and they're doing all the little things because they want to instead of because coach tells them to, then we'll be successful."

UT sophomore point guard Trae Golden was the catalyst for what Martin said was the team's most complete win of the season.

Golden had 17 points and seven assists while making four of seven shots from the floor and nine of 11 from the free-throw line in his 38 minutes.

"I think the last two games Trae has led the team on both ends of the floor and been very vocal," Martin said. "The things I talk to him about are leading the team, getting the assists, feeding your teammates. It goes a long way when your point guard leads like that.

"That (Florida) win started with Trae putting pressure on their point guard."

The Gators committed 15 turnovers while getting just nine assists as UT dominated throughout the game.

"I just think we're getting better as a team," Golden said. "We all know what we need to do now, and we all know our roles."

McBee for Threes: Vols shooting guard Skylar McBee played a career-high 38 minutes alongside Golden, scoring 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting beyond the 3-point arc. McBee is averaging 13.7 points in his three starts.

"Skylar does a good job taking what the defense gives him," Martin said. "He stretches the defense, he can make shots and he can get the ball inside. With Skylar being a player they have to identify on the perimeter, our big guys can play one-on-one."

No Fuss: UT freshman Jarnell Stokes said he didn't mean for Florida's Patric Young to fall to the floor when he fouled him and was assessed a flagrant foul.

"Basketball is a competitive game, and I wasn't going to let him score," Stokes said. "But he's a big guy, and I'm surprised he fell like that."

Vols freshman Wes Washpun got a late technical foul after blocking a shot.

"Apparently, he used a bad word after the block," said Martin, who replaced Washpun immediately.

Orange Slices: Jeronne Maymon recorded his seventh double-double of the season (15 points, 11 rebounds) and played 36 minutes. ... Cam Tatum played 17 minutes before fouling out without having attempted a shot. ... Jordan McRae's 12-point effort in 26 minutes marked the third time in the past five games he has scored in double figures.

Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32

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Comments » 37

alfrizzle097 writes:

Wonder what's up with Tatum. When he finally fouled out he looked completely disconnected.

bosscat writes:

The fact we have mathematical chances of making the big dance is unbelievable. But then we have a coach and players that make you think they can accomplish the unbelievable.

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to amyinsparta:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Come on, now, Amy. Tatum must be working hard mentally and physically if he is starting for Martin. He is playing good defense and helping the team in ways that he can without being selfish, like not shooting a lot while he is in a shooting slump. This team is coming together. Let's celebrate and recognize that it is a team effort by all of them.

johnlg00 writes:

Those RPI and power-rating numbers are well below the traditional standards for NCAA at-large selections. However, the Vols' numbers could go up considerably if they win out. I guess that is what is meant by the idea that they are still entertaining "mathematical possibilities" for a bid. One thing is sure: they can't drop any of them if they are to keep those hopes alive. If they lose to a lower-rated team, their ratings will go down; if they lose to a higher-rated team, they will have blown a chance to improve them. Even if they win out and even if they reach the SEC tourney championship game, that may not be enough to get in. Even so, they have shown enough to provide grounds for high hopes for next season. Winning the NIT wouldn't hurt, either.

lomas98 writes:

I don't think they have a realistic shot of making the NCAA. However, this week is huge for sec standings. Win against ark and bama and have a shot at top 4. Lose to ark and will be tough to finish better than 8. Margin of error is that small with all of these teams within a game of each other. Position for conference tournament is key if they want to make a run. Need to be on opposite side of ky in the bracket. Vols finally got one on road after playing bad all year, hopefully ark will wait to find their road game win.

jowemedo writes:

If the Vols face Florida in the SEC tournament and beat them again, will it still be a shock?

makelemonade writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Those RPI and power-rating numbers are well below the traditional standards for NCAA at-large selections. However, the Vols' numbers could go up considerably if they win out. I guess that is what is meant by the idea that they are still entertaining "mathematical possibilities" for a bid. One thing is sure: they can't drop any of them if they are to keep those hopes alive. If they lose to a lower-rated team, their ratings will go down; if they lose to a higher-rated team, they will have blown a chance to improve them. Even if they win out and even if they reach the SEC tourney championship game, that may not be enough to get in. Even so, they have shown enough to provide grounds for high hopes for next season. Winning the NIT wouldn't hurt, either.

Winning out and getting to the championship game would give us 21 wins with at least 4 over top 25 teams(2x Fla, UConn & Vandy). That would pretty much guarantee a bid to the Big Dance. You are right about one thing, we can't afford to lose another one. If we had only beaten Austin Peay, Miss St & UGA there, we would be sitting pretty. Lots of what-ifs. They've still exceeded expectations by any stretch of the imagination. I'm very proud of them. GBO

keepitreal4vols writes:

Thats some fuzzy math calculating our NCAA chances. 1st, we have to win out. 2nd , We have some VERY bad losses and not enough good wins. UCONN isn't that good(probably NIT bound) so 2 Florida wins is all we really have on the resume.

underthehill writes:

A trip to the NIT would be more than was expected for this team..and it sure don't look like they're going to be 11th as predicted..

murrayvol writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Those RPI and power-rating numbers are well below the traditional standards for NCAA at-large selections. However, the Vols' numbers could go up considerably if they win out. I guess that is what is meant by the idea that they are still entertaining "mathematical possibilities" for a bid. One thing is sure: they can't drop any of them if they are to keep those hopes alive. If they lose to a lower-rated team, their ratings will go down; if they lose to a higher-rated team, they will have blown a chance to improve them. Even if they win out and even if they reach the SEC tourney championship game, that may not be enough to get in. Even so, they have shown enough to provide grounds for high hopes for next season. Winning the NIT wouldn't hurt, either.

The selection committee typically rewards teams that are playing well at season's end. If they do win out (difficult to do) and win a couple of games in the SEC Tourney, they've got a shot.....albeit a long one.

Forget about winning the SEC Tournament. Nobody's going to beat Kentucky.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I like a "chance" better than none. Besides You can bank it. We will WIN The SEC tourney...
The math says we can! BELIEVE!! "Oh ye of little faith" All we need is a mustard seed...or something like that.

lomas98 writes:

in response to keepitreal4vols:

Thats some fuzzy math calculating our NCAA chances. 1st, we have to win out. 2nd , We have some VERY bad losses and not enough good wins. UCONN isn't that good(probably NIT bound) so 2 Florida wins is all we really have on the resume.

Agree, don't think we win out first of all. Team has been too inconsistent to put together that string of victories. Everybody is saying this after just one road win. The bad losses are very bad. Last year losses to Oakland and charleston were not that bad, this year not so much. Plus we had very good wins over nova and Pitt out of conference because they kept winning. Uconn is not helping the cause. Like you said, no more chances to beat a ranked team unless vandy gets on a roll and they are a bad matchup for this tn team. I'm not hating, just being realistic. At least the more wins they have will give them better seeding and possibly home games in the nit.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say considering what these team has been thru the last 11 mths. NIT would be a great accomplishment for this young team on the rebound. Witch Doctor not be upset one bit if they get a good run there.
Bones never lie.

alfrizzle097 writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

Come on, now, Amy. Tatum must be working hard mentally and physically if he is starting for Martin. He is playing good defense and helping the team in ways that he can without being selfish, like not shooting a lot while he is in a shooting slump. This team is coming together. Let's celebrate and recognize that it is a team effort by all of them.

Agree that he must be working hard. He just doesn't look as engaged during the games. I dunno... I just remember seeing him early his freshman season. One dunk he had in the open court his head was even with the top of the square on the backboard and I thought 'this is the next THE man.'

Never really happened. Don't know if its the knees, outside distractions, my premature judgement of his potential, or something else.

VolnTex writes:

"When players walk with a certain type of swagger, a level of confidence — not cockiness, not arrogance"

YES, that's what I love. Every young athlete in the country needs to see this. Having confidence doesn't mean you have to jump up and down, pound your chest, scream or do the Kobe "look at me I'm an angry young man" act.

keepitreal4vols writes:

in response to murrayvol:

The selection committee typically rewards teams that are playing well at season's end. If they do win out (difficult to do) and win a couple of games in the SEC Tourney, they've got a shot.....albeit a long one.

Forget about winning the SEC Tournament. Nobody's going to beat Kentucky.

Disagree. Last year, UT lost 6 of last 9 games and finished 8-8, Georgia was 9-7, Vandy was 9-7 and all made the dance. The #1 SEC west team alabama was 12-4, won 10 of last 13 games and didn't get in. + they beat Georgia in SEC tourney.
If alabama didn't make it last year, UT ain't making it this year, IMO.

IC_Vol writes:

in response to makelemonade:

Winning out and getting to the championship game would give us 21 wins with at least 4 over top 25 teams(2x Fla, UConn & Vandy). That would pretty much guarantee a bid to the Big Dance. You are right about one thing, we can't afford to lose another one. If we had only beaten Austin Peay, Miss St & UGA there, we would be sitting pretty. Lots of what-ifs. They've still exceeded expectations by any stretch of the imagination. I'm very proud of them. GBO

Part of UT's problem is the games that should have built the RPI have not because those teams (Uconn, Pitt, Memphis and Vandy) are not in the top 25. Add that to some really bad losses and its a stretch for the NCAA. That said I thought it was impossible for us to beat UF in Gainesville so what do I know?

louisianavol writes:

If they go 5-1 to close out and win 1 in the SEC tourney, then they finish 19-14 with a 10-6 conference record. They would probably get in with their SOS. Seems like a stretch, but it's possible. Early losses to Austin Peay and Georgia could end up costing them.

wigmeister writes:

The team is doing much better than expected, and I too are proud of them for what they have done. Now we must look to the future. Every game must be looked at, for the rest of the season, as a playoff game. Their possible post season is dependent upon that philosophy from this point forward.

Now get out there and kick some hog A.

GerryOP writes:

in response to bosscat:

The fact we have mathematical chances of making the big dance is unbelievable. But then we have a coach and players that make you think they can accomplish the unbelievable.

I think we have a coach and players who believe they can accomplish the unbelievable ... like beating UF in G'ville.

pupvol writes:

in response to alfrizzle097:

Wonder what's up with Tatum. When he finally fouled out he looked completely disconnected.

The team looks a lot better when he's on the bench!

eb502us#225637 writes:

in response to alfrizzle097:

Wonder what's up with Tatum. When he finally fouled out he looked completely disconnected.

He's been disconnected since his sophomore year. Why the surprise?

givehim6 writes:

Would rather UT start off slow than finnish strong than win only to fizzle out. Better to win the NIT than one then done in the NCAA.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to louisianavol:

If they go 5-1 to close out and win 1 in the SEC tourney, then they finish 19-14 with a 10-6 conference record. They would probably get in with their SOS. Seems like a stretch, but it's possible. Early losses to Austin Peay and Georgia could end up costing them.

Realistically, the best chance for the Vols to get in, assuming they win out in the regular season and win a couple in the SEC tourney, would be for every single favorite in the one-bid conferences to win their tournaments. A couple of teams like, say, Murray State or Middle Tennessee might be considered for bids even if they aren't the automatic qualifiers for their conferences. That could turn a couple of one-bid conferences into two-bid leagues, and squeeze out a late-bloomer like the Vols. No question their bad losses are BAD, but they ARE a different team now. It just might not be enough. In any case, they will have to actually complete the sweep for any of this to matter at all. It's just nice that we could even have these dreams this late in what most thought would be a disastrous season.

SummittsCourt writes:

5-1 record (6-0 is possible too) the rest of the way would leave the Vols at 18-13 and 10-6 in the SEC which spells NCAA, not NIT.

With 2 wins over a ranked Florida and a win over a ranked UConn, plus close losses to Memphis, Duke and Pitt should be a good enough resume to get the Vols in the big dance!

Lets Go Vols!

toomanymistakes writes:

Don't forget that Chaminade is Div II. That win won't count toward the Big Dance.

alfrizzle097 writes:

in response to EightLetters:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Only ever been one team to go undefeated. There have been many clear cut number ones and most of them have lost multiple games. Its easy to have an off night.

I agree that Kentucky will win the tourney... but what if?

UTFISH writes:

in response to amyinsparta:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

No way they are working any harder under Martin than they were under Pearl. The level of fitness demanded by Pearl and his fast tempo scheme was what enabled his teams to just grind opponents into submission. That statement may be accurate when applied to the freshmen, but applied to the others it is just rediculous.

SouthALVol writes:

What I noticed in the last ten minutes of the Florida game was the players were CALM. It was as if they knew they were going to be in that position and fully expected it. That was very nice to see.

SunshineVol writes:

It would help if all those corpses behind the announcers and benches were convinced to give up their seats to fired-up students and make the place have more of a college basketball atmosphere.

murrayvol writes:

in response to 10seVol85:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

That would have to be a bad day indeed.

murrayvol writes:

in response to keepitreal4vols:

Disagree. Last year, UT lost 6 of last 9 games and finished 8-8, Georgia was 9-7, Vandy was 9-7 and all made the dance. The #1 SEC west team alabama was 12-4, won 10 of last 13 games and didn't get in. + they beat Georgia in SEC tourney.
If alabama didn't make it last year, UT ain't making it this year, IMO.

That's what forums are for so disagree all you like.

The Vols had the #1 SOS last year and a good RPI in spite of the meltdown. They also had some star power in Harris, Hopson, and Pearl. Alabama's SOS was off the charts bad.

I didn't mean to imply that playing well late will always get you in. The committee can be unpredictable.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

in response to VolunteerLifer:

Come on, now, Amy. Tatum must be working hard mentally and physically if he is starting for Martin. He is playing good defense and helping the team in ways that he can without being selfish, like not shooting a lot while he is in a shooting slump. This team is coming together. Let's celebrate and recognize that it is a team effort by all of them.

I agree with your take. As long as Tatum is working hard on D and making wise decisions, then we can get scoring from other players! He will eventually work his way out of the slump! I like the chemistry that this team seems to be developing!

BigVolFaninSC writes:

in response to UTFISH:

No way they are working any harder under Martin than they were under Pearl. The level of fitness demanded by Pearl and his fast tempo scheme was what enabled his teams to just grind opponents into submission. That statement may be accurate when applied to the freshmen, but applied to the others it is just rediculous.

I don't know if anyone can measure which team worked harder under which coach, but I do know this: This year's defense is better than ANY under Pearl! His teams may have been more flashy on the offensive end, but Martin is defense ALWAYS!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to keepitreal4vols:

Disagree. Last year, UT lost 6 of last 9 games and finished 8-8, Georgia was 9-7, Vandy was 9-7 and all made the dance. The #1 SEC west team alabama was 12-4, won 10 of last 13 games and didn't get in. + they beat Georgia in SEC tourney.
If alabama didn't make it last year, UT ain't making it this year, IMO.

The thing is, the NCAA Selection Committee is different every year. Some years they put a lot of stock in what teams are playing well late and reward strong conference tourney performances that end short of a championship. Some years, like last year, they don't. It should be noted that the committee got an uncommon amount of grief from many quarters last year, in large part because it was conspicuously short on real college basketball people and heavy on administrators and other such "politicians". In any case, since they don't get any "do-overs" for the bad losses, all the Vols can do to help their case now is win as many as possible and see where that gets them.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to UTFISH:

No way they are working any harder under Martin than they were under Pearl. The level of fitness demanded by Pearl and his fast tempo scheme was what enabled his teams to just grind opponents into submission. That statement may be accurate when applied to the freshmen, but applied to the others it is just rediculous.

No, it isn't a "rediculous" statement. Pearl's last couple of teams didn't run NEARLY as much as his first few. I read Dane Bradshaw's book about how hard HIS teams worked, but I just don't think they went at it as hard the last couple of years. If they did, it didn't show to the same extent on the floor.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

No, it isn't a "rediculous" statement. Pearl's last couple of teams didn't run NEARLY as much as his first few. I read Dane Bradshaw's book about how hard HIS teams worked, but I just don't think they went at it as hard the last couple of years. If they did, it didn't show to the same extent on the floor.

In case I wasn't clear, I meant that Pearl's last couple of teams didn't push the action in the games nearly as hard as they did earlier. I have no idea how much they ran in practice or how it compares with how hard Martin's Vols practice. It remains my impression that this year's Vols play to a somewhat higher percentage of their ability than Pearl's last couple of teams did.

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