Mike Strange: Vols progressing, despite recent losses

Mike Strange
Tennessee forward Kenny Hall (20) shoots the ball as Kentucky forward Anthony Davis (23) defends at Thompson-Boling Arena in Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012.  Kentucky defeated Tennessee 65-62.  (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee forward Kenny Hall (20) shoots the ball as Kentucky forward Anthony Davis (23) defends at Thompson-Boling Arena in Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. Kentucky defeated Tennessee 65-62. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Jeronne Maymon talks about his performance against Kentucky

One month ago, here was Tennessee's basketball week:

A historic loss to Austin Peay. The Governors looked like a Final Four team when they shot 72 percent in the second half.

Then a loss at College of Charleston. A guy from up the road in Greeneville, Antwaine Wiggins, looked like a lottery pick when he scored 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting.

OK, consider Tennessee's most recent week:

The Vols convincingly beat one ranked SEC team, Florida, and, then played to the brink of upsetting two others in less than 48 hours.

A 65-62 loss to No. 2 Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday had a strikingly similar feel to the 62-58 loss at No. 20 Mississippi State on Thursday night.

In each case, Tennessee battled to within one possession of pulling off a shocker.

Obviously, the mid-January Vols have come a long way from the mid-December Vols.

Austin Peay merely looked like a Final Four team. Kentucky is a Final Four team.

Charleston's Wiggins merely looked like a lottery pick. Kentucky's Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are lottery picks.

"I'm so impressed with what Coach (Cuonzo) Martin has done,'' gushed UK coach John Calipari. "That is an NCAA tournament team.''

Calipari is well known for having the gift of blarney. But he's not the only one impressed with what Martin is doing with the bunch that lost to Austin Peay and Charleston.

The Vols' effort Saturday was the most impressive of the recent three, even if the result wasn't satisfying in any shape, form or fashion.

"We just feel like they're losses,'' Jeronne Maymon said after an 15-point, 10-rebound afternoon. "All we want is wins.

"That's all people care about when you really think about it.''

Of course. That's why there is a scoreboard. But in this season of lowered expectations, UT fans also care that their team is representing, even when it's not winning.

At Memphis a mere 10 days ago, the Vols neither won nor represented. Since then, their transformation on the defensive end has been a game-changer.

They handled the Gators at home. Having a chance to win at Mississippi State signalled the Florida upset was no fluke. Nothing comes easy in Starkville.

Back home Saturday after a quick turn-around the Vols had a capacity crowd to feed the adrenaline. If a third of the crowd was feeding Kentucky, there was still plenty for the home team.

Jarnell Stokes, the newest Vol, was also good for a pick-me-up. Nine points and four rebounds in 17 minutes was beyond anyone's expectations for the freshmen who hasn't been on campus long enough to find the student center yet.

Kentucky came at the Vols with more weapons than either Florida or Mississippi State. Ultimately, Tennessee blinked, but it never quit.

"These are all learning experiences for us,'' said senior Cameron Tatum who emerged from a dreadful slump to score 16 points. "I can see the confidence in the guys each time down the stretch. I see that in everybody's eyes.

"I like what I see.''

Except, of course, for the scoreboard these past two games. Details, details.

But the month's journey from losing to Austin Peay and Charleston to taking Mississippi State and Kentucky to the wire indicates real progress.

Let's see what the scoreboards look like in another month.

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 » 14

volforeverandever writes:

Sure looks like a different team.A stud big man can make everbody better.Hard to double up on anyone else and he can handle those double teams himself.

born2ride writes:

Is this YEAR ZERO?

GhostofRobertNeyland writes:

Loved seeing Maymon and Stokes on the court together. An improving Hall could make our low post very tough. Need a point gaurd. McRae needs to realize he's not playing AAU ball anymore.

VolFanInTheBoro (Inactive) writes:

in response to BodeaneVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

67-56

jamgod writes:

IF we had a point guard with 3/4 the talent of Gilchrist we would be looking at many more wins. I hate to say it but with Tatum on the team and Golden running the PG position, we are a pretty good team, not a realy good team. We may make the NCAA but it's more likely the NIT...Golden really isn't to blame, he's the best we have at that position so what can we expect even though he does from time to time, make some really stupid, stupid decisions....Oh well, what can fans really expect without a really good point guard running the offense for us...right about what our record is.

volforeverandever writes:

in response to EightLetters:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I can agree with that.I do think Stokes will make all of them better.Also think we will get to the big dance.Hope we get more talent.

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to EightLetters:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Why don't you tell that to someone who cares about Kentucky basketball? Aren't many here who do, including me.

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to born2ride:

Is this YEAR ZERO?

Yes - perfect year for comments on this board by zeroes like you.

flatrock writes:

I would like to send a big THANK YOU to the TSSAA for declaring Jarnell Stokes ineligible...Think you could send Coach Martin a true PG this week?

johnlg00 writes:

in response to jamgod:

IF we had a point guard with 3/4 the talent of Gilchrist we would be looking at many more wins. I hate to say it but with Tatum on the team and Golden running the PG position, we are a pretty good team, not a realy good team. We may make the NCAA but it's more likely the NIT...Golden really isn't to blame, he's the best we have at that position so what can we expect even though he does from time to time, make some really stupid, stupid decisions....Oh well, what can fans really expect without a really good point guard running the offense for us...right about what our record is.

Of course, Kidd-Gilchrist isn't a PG, but the one they have, Teague, is pretty good. Despite his well-documented shortcomings, Golden did a great job on Teague defensively, got the ball inside, didn't force shots, and didn't turn it over a lot. He is not a "natural" at the position, but he is learning like the rest of the team. The next step I would like to see him take is to push the ball a little harder in transition, especially late in games. If he can get the ball to the front court in "scramble" situations, he can not only get to the hoop easier himself, he can get the ball to the other guys in one-on-one situations rather than having to work against set defenses all the time.

murrayvol writes:

in response to VolFanInTheBoro:

67-56

Touche'

murrayvol writes:

in response to EightLetters:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Best team money can buy.

Always has been and always will be.

UkJarhead writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Best team money can buy.

Always has been and always will be.

WOW. Not one shred of proof. Cal NEVER been accused or investigated for a violation. What was proven is that the 2 schools that he coached did not know of viaolations. The NCAA still punishes even if team or coach didn't know. Cal actually turned in Camby and started the investigation at UMass. What is fact is the 3 sport probation at UT. Probably will be 4 with the swim coach. Unreal how you can comment about cheating with the past year UT has had. Please, change school colors to GREEN!!!!!!!

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to BodeaneVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

No moral victory against the Gators, though. You will likely be thinking moral victories against the Cats (home and away). And where do you play Miss. State? Hopefully at home, for if not, then likely another Gator moral victory. MVU South, it seems.

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