Mike Strange: No omens, just a team buying into Cuonzo Martin's mantra

Mike Strange
Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin greets fans as he leaves the court after the 67-56 win over Florida on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess, ©KNS/2011

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin greets fans as he leaves the court after the 67-56 win over Florida on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Cuonzo Martin on UT's win over Florida

I don't necessarily believe in omens. But perhaps Billy Donovan's blood pressure spiked when Dane Bradshaw materialized at midcourt Saturday to announce it was " basketball time in Tennessee.''

At one point in the second half, the Thompson-Boling Arena JumboTron reminded the crowd it was nearly six years ago that Bradshaw scored winning baskets in consecutive Florida games and helped the Vols launch an 8-2 run against the Gators in the first five years of the Bruce Pearl Era. As if Donovan needed reminding.

No, I don't think omens had anything to do with Tennessee's stunning 67-56 upset of No. 13 Florida that got the SEC season off and running.

That would be selling the 10 Vols who played Saturday and Cuonzo Martin's coaching staff short.

Granted, Florida didn't play well and shot worse. The Gators hardly looked the 13th-best team in the nation. Still, Tennessee deserves credit for the outcome that sent an opening-day shock wave through the conference.

"We always talk about how good we can be,'' said sophomore Jordan McRae, "but going out there and proving people like you wrong, it feels great.

"It shows us how good we really can be.''

People like me had sup

posed that after the loss at Memphis on Wednesday, it might be a while before Tennessee's next victory. A while could be translated as several weeks.

I'll have my crow medium-rare with a side of fries. For nearly three hours Saturday, the early-bird Vols were atop the SEC standings alone at 1-0.

If any former Vol deserves an assist for the victory, it's not Bradshaw but Tony White.

White, "The Wiz" from the 1980s, spoke to the team Friday night, along with chaplain Roger Woods. Several players mentioned being inspired by White.

"He said when they played they didn't lose at home,'' said McRae, whom this year had already lost at home to Austin Peay.

Added Jeronne Maymon, "They took the veil from over our eyes, pointed out what we weren't doing as individuals.

"It was a real shocker, but it helped us look at ourselves in the mirror.''

When the Vols look in the mirror today, they see a team that bought into their coach's mantra, that being accountable on defense makes all the difference.

"It's maturity,'' said point guard Trae Golden. "I think we're growing up. We're realizing we're gonna win the game through defense, not offense.

"If we don't play defense, we're gonna get embarrassed. This is the SEC.''

Golden enjoyed a private conversation with White, who shared his thoughts on walking the line at point guard between scoring and distributing.

"It helped out a lot,'' said Golden. "A huge message.''

Apparently. Against Florida, Golden was especially efficient, scoring 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting and dishing seven assists.

So what's the bottom line Tennessee takes away from its especially efficient Saturday?

Is the team picked to finish 11th or 12th going to contend for an SEC title after all? Probably not.

For the moment, settle for this:

This was the SEC and, contrary to dire predictions, the Vols weren't embarrassed. On the contrary, they dished out the embarrassment.

Add Jarnell Stokes to the mix soon and the next two months are suddenly looking a lot more interesting.

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

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 30

LSG410EC83 writes:

Thanks for admitting the doubt about the upcoming games. Was a great game with great team play. Very, very enjoyable to watch. Look forward to more of the same. Dont need to put so much pressure on Stokes. He will be a great addition, but I dont expect him to be perfect at first. He is a true freshman that has a lot to learn about Martin's system. Look forward to him along with the rest of the team growing. IT IS GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL. GO BIG ORANGE.

NorthwestVol writes:

Gotta love that 'defense first' frame of mind.

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

Nice to hear Strange admit he's not so hot predicting winners. He might have to think twice before making rash statements in the future.

This doesn't mean the Vols are suddenly going to win every game. It does go to prove people should never assume they can write a team off.

GerryOP writes:

As Strange Mike cautiously eats a small portion of crow ... medium well done.

GerryOP writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

Vols,

Nice to hear Strange admit he's not so hot predicting winners. He might have to think twice before making rash statements in the future.

This doesn't mean the Vols are suddenly going to win every game. It does go to prove people should never assume they can write a team off.

Yup ... and that applies to a lot of people. Our basketVols are not going to quietly just go away.

lomas98 writes:

Just proves you cannot judge what will happen the next game based on what happened the previous. All of a sudden now people think we may have turned a corner. Truth is this team is likely to get beat by 20 or win by 8 against miss st. I wouldn't be surprised by either. These kids are competitors and unlike most fans and some media members, they do believe they can win every game they play. This is the best they have looked since Maui but they get a win for their effort this time instead of losses. Hopefully they can continue but will still be considerable underdogs the next 2 games. Enjoy the games but remember no matter the result they start all over the next game and the previous one doesn't matter.

LSG410EC83 writes:

in response to lomas98:

Just proves you cannot judge what will happen the next game based on what happened the previous. All of a sudden now people think we may have turned a corner. Truth is this team is likely to get beat by 20 or win by 8 against miss st. I wouldn't be surprised by either. These kids are competitors and unlike most fans and some media members, they do believe they can win every game they play. This is the best they have looked since Maui but they get a win for their effort this time instead of losses. Hopefully they can continue but will still be considerable underdogs the next 2 games. Enjoy the games but remember no matter the result they start all over the next game and the previous one doesn't matter.

I agree with you. This is going to be a season of a lot of learning for this young team. Yes we have some guys that have been there for more than one year, but different coach with a different way of coaching. Like the improvement in defense and also the better shot selection this game. They just need to get consisitant.

Vol1973 writes:

This is Cuonzo's Team now, they believe... GBO

woodwr#217203 writes:

Florida played badly but we really needed an early demonstration of the Purdue School defense.

tturley#297658 writes:

Perhaps the Knoxville media should write about how bad THEY THEMSELVES are!

hcjournals#206623 writes:

Bottom line is it's always great to beat Florida.....In anything....

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to Vol1973:

This is Cuonzo's Team now, they believe... GBO

Yes, but it was also his team when they lost to Austin Peay. Sure it takes time for a new coach and a team with players who have never had to play 30 minutes a game, but this was totally unpredictable. Florida did not shoot well, but UT's defense was a big reason. Home court can be huge in basketball but it's not always a factor at TBA. Hopefully the fans will keep the energy going at future games. This has to give the team confidence that they can defend the home court if they play hard. Congratulations Vols and Coach Martin!

bannervol writes:

in response to woodwr#217203:

Florida played badly but we really needed an early demonstration of the Purdue School defense.

I've been waiting all season to see this game. All I heard about in the preseason was the new toughness of the vols and their defensive committment. This is the first game that I got to see it; but I still saw a half dozen opportunities for the vols to hit the floor instead of watching. It will be interesting to see if they can build on this or if it is a one time show.

Sir_Spanky writes:

Wonder where the trolls are?

One_in_West_Knox writes:

in response to FanNotSheep:

Yes, but it was also his team when they lost to Austin Peay. Sure it takes time for a new coach and a team with players who have never had to play 30 minutes a game, but this was totally unpredictable. Florida did not shoot well, but UT's defense was a big reason. Home court can be huge in basketball but it's not always a factor at TBA. Hopefully the fans will keep the energy going at future games. This has to give the team confidence that they can defend the home court if they play hard. Congratulations Vols and Coach Martin!

Maybe home court advantage shouldn't be such a factor to the Vols if it makes them not to take so much for granted and to play harder and play to win, and the national titles can keep pouring in!!

snakeplissken writes:

No omens, no orange dog being pushed around on a two-wheeler, no comparing the team to Nazis at D-Day, no talk about watering bamboo, no talk about showering etiquette - just great coaching from a coach in control of his program and players being coached up and executing against a ranked team. Maybe Coach Martin needs to coach our football team when they play Florida this year!!!

Bigger_Al writes:

I thought the same as Strange when I looked at the schedule for January. Home games against ranked teams, and tough road games all lined up. Glad to get an early W, which brings more confidence down the line.

Stokes isn't even a True Freshman yet, he is really a High Schooler that qualified for early enrollment. Doesn't even have the benefit of going through pre-season camp. But as the Kentucky Freshman show, talent means an awful lot, and they say he is the most talented on the team.

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

I thought the same as Strange when I looked at the schedule for January. Home games against ranked teams, and tough road games all lined up. Glad to get an early W, which brings more confidence down the line.

Stokes isn't even a True Freshman yet, he is really a High Schooler that qualified for early enrollment. Doesn't even have the benefit of going through pre-season camp. But as the Kentucky Freshman show, talent means an awful lot, and they say he is the most talented on the team.

UT still has a tough row to hoe. Home basketball games can be won with a combination of effort and momentum if the crowd gets into it – even if the other team has a talent advantage.

The SEC seems to be better this year, but it is hard to be sure of that. Kentucky is definitely a top-5 team and Vandy, Miss. State and Florida are supposed to be good. Looks like Georgia and Alabama are improved and LSU showed they are capable of beating good teams.

Stokes should be fun to watch, but fans need to remember what you point out: He should be playing for his high school team right now. But any time you beat Florida the future suddenly looks brighter.

BolivrBob writes:

Don't know what Tony is doing now but it sounds like we need to bring him in as an assistant

elivol writes:

As we awake to this beautiful sunshine day in the south of the slime nest of Florida, IT"S GREAT TO BEAT THEM AT ANYTHING!!!!!!!!!!! LUV U BasketVols and Kisses to all of you. No futher explanation needed.

BolivrBob writes:

Zo...When was the last time you smiled?

kcbigorngX writes:

in response to snakeplissken:

No omens, no orange dog being pushed around on a two-wheeler, no comparing the team to Nazis at D-Day, no talk about watering bamboo, no talk about showering etiquette - just great coaching from a coach in control of his program and players being coached up and executing against a ranked team. Maybe Coach Martin needs to coach our football team when they play Florida this year!!!

If Coach Martin ever met you in private he would slap the taste right out of your mouth.

That taste would be tripe, which flows through that tooth gap regularly and in both directions.

Everybody knows you're just a VandyGrad.

johnlg00 writes:

The great thing about the win yesterday is that it was accomplished the old-fashioned way, on defense and with sound offensive fundamentals. The Vols didn't get a lot of easy baskets on run-outs or steals in the full court. They didn't shoot the lights out. Nobody unexpectedly went off for 30 points.

Now, it is always a question whether an inexperienced team can continue to keep their composure on a hostile floor, against a more-talented team, on a night when nobody's shots are falling. Well, sometimes you get beat; it happens to nearly everybody at one time or another. Sometimes somebody unexpected on the other team gets hot. However, if the Vols can just keep working at it, possession by possession, and don't beat themselves by getting in a hurry and throwing the ball away willy-nilly in the open court, they will be in every game and sometimes the breaks will go their way.

I think this is the very thing Martin has been preaching to these guys from Day One. Now they have seen that it actually works. I'm not saying by any means that the Vols will now proceed to light up the league, but I am saying that none of our fans should count them out in advance in any game. There may a tendency for some opposing players to do that, all to the Vols' advantage, but they need to know for sure that no opposing COACH will do that. It may not be easy and some of the games may be ugly, but if this team keeps its heart and composure it will make itself and us proud.

givehim6 writes:

Great win for the Vols, and CCM! Yes I was not sure about CCM but now I am behind the man. Nothing washes the bad tast of a UK lose out of your mouth like a win over UF. Think UT has more of a target on there back, so play tough guys buy into CCM and the W will pile up, GO VOLS!

bbfn writes:

in response to kcbigorngX:

If Coach Martin ever met you in private he would slap the taste right out of your mouth.

That taste would be tripe, which flows through that tooth gap regularly and in both directions.

Everybody knows you're just a VandyGrad.

Someone has a reading comprehension problem.
YOU are definitely NOT a Vandy grad. Snake is totally correct. Great coaching job. No voodoo involved. Accept the compliment.

Ayres_Hall writes:

in response to Sir_Spanky:

Wonder where the trolls are?

It's not just trolls. The Legion of the Miserable are fair weather fans wanting, seeking the worst. They'll be back.

therightstuff writes:

Way to go Tennessee Volunteers. The men played tough for a tough coach.

frblalack writes:

in response to snakeplissken:

No omens, no orange dog being pushed around on a two-wheeler, no comparing the team to Nazis at D-Day, no talk about watering bamboo, no talk about showering etiquette - just great coaching from a coach in control of his program and players being coached up and executing against a ranked team. Maybe Coach Martin needs to coach our football team when they play Florida this year!!!

Vols finally played the defense we've been wanting! Great game, Big Orange!

As to your post sir, your unkind words about our football program only serve to make you look like the IDIOT poster you truly are!

All Vols - All the Time - Vol for Life !

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

My favorite Cuonzo Martin soundbite. When asked in preseason if his players would buy into his program, Martin looked calmly at the reporter and said, "Do they have a choice?"

Love it!

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to Bodeanvol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Your namesake, "Bodeane" is probably sniffing each seat, to see what each customer's previous dining experience was. He probably then went home after his shift to type up his culinary column, "The Taste of Knoxville, from a Leather, Vinyl, and Cloth Perspective". He would have no time to post drivel on a UT fan website, since he is preoccupied with detailing his post-nasal experiences.

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