Skylar McBee shares his thoughts on the postseason
Tennessee's starting lineup will remain the same for tonight's game against Ole Miss.
In case you haven't been paying close attention to UT's men's basketball team this season, having the same starting lineup for consecutive home games in 2012 qualifies as news.
The Vols have had a different starting lineup for each of the past three home games, and they're 5-0 since the start of the SEC season in games they've changed the starting lineup.
This time, UT coach Cuonzo Martin said he doesn't feel the need to make any last-minute changes before a pivotal battle between the Vols (14-13, 6-6 SEC) and the Rebels (15-11, 5-7) today (TV: CSS, 7 p.m.) in Thompson-Boling Arena.
"I don't think you can have a consistent flow as a team if you change your lineup all the time,'' Martin said. "I've made changes in the past because it was necessary or time for someone else to have an opportunity.''
But there's no denying each time Martin has pushed lineup buttons, the Vols have responded.
The first lineup change sparked a 67-56 upset over Florida in both teams' SEC opener on Jan. 7. Freshman Josh Richardson and senior Renaldo Woolridge were in, and sophomore Jordan McRae and junior Kenny Hall went out.
Three losses with that lineup followed, however, and Martin shifted gears before the Vols faced defending national champion Connecticut. This time, it was freshman Jarnell Stokes entering the lineup and Woolridge exiting. Again, UT responded, scoring a 60-57 home win.
That lineup went 2-2 before Martin decided it was time for junior Skylar McBee to get his first career start against Georgia while Trae Golden got a different vantage point from the bench.
The Vols beat the Bulldogs in Thompson-Boling Arena, 73-62.
Golden picked up his intensity in workouts, earning a start in the next game against South Carolina while Richardson took a seat back on the bench at the start of a 69-57 home win. Hall also returned to the starting lineup against the Gamecocks, as Stokes injured his right wrist two days prior to the tipoff.
The most recent lineup change came before the Vols' home game against Arkansas last Wednesday when Hall was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. It's likely Stokes was going to start the game, anyway.
So how does Martin explain the way his team has been able to respond to the changing lineups?
"More than anything, it was guys being ready to play and accept whatever role it takes for the team to win,'' Martin said.
The way Martin rotates the scrimmage lineups in practice also has contributed to the Vols' ability to roll with the punches.
While most coaches choose to keep the starters or top seven in the rotation together during scrimmages, Martin plays roulette, changing it up every practice, mixing walk-ons in with starters.
"Sometimes we'll have Jeronne (Maymon) guarding Jordan, or Cam Tatum going up against Trae,'' Martin said. "You want everybody to be able to play together, and you want them able to guard different types of players.''
Defenses playing man-to-man often "switch" on assignments as opposed to having the defender try to run around picks and screens.
Ole Miss, with its size and athleticism, is a team that can switch at every position, as the Rebels' bigs have the quickness to guard smaller players.
Ole Miss also plays an effective zone, and Martin said Rebels coach Andy Kennedy has shown he's willing to use whatever defense is working.
As for what works for Tennessee, it seems that will be up to the current starters to execute.
Martin's not changing the lineup — at the moment.
Streaks: Maymon and Tatum are the only two players to start all 27 games this season.
The Vols have won 10 of their past 11 at home and own a 10-game home win streak over Ole Miss dating back to Feb. 27, 1991. That also was the last season that UT lost to both Mississippi State and Ole Miss in the same season.
Attendance Race: Martin and his coaching staff were out on campus on Tuesday trying to rally the students to attend, as the Vols are competing with Wisconsin for the No. 5 spot in national home attendance.
UT, which is averaging 17,116 per home game, has finished in the top five in the nation in attendance the past six seasons. The Badgers are averaging 17,175 per home game.
Lower-level tickets are available for $25 apiece. A regular 300-level ticket is available for $15.
Soles4Souls: Fans can donate a pair of gently-worn shoes and receive two 300-level tickets for tonight's game or a pair of general admission tickes to the Lady Vols game against Arkansas on Thursday.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32