Mike Strange: Vols have to zig-zag before straight-line success

Mike Strange
Tennessee players watch during the final minutes of their 65-47 loss to Vanderbilt in an NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Photo by AP Photo / Mark Humphrey

Tennessee players watch during the final minutes of their 65-47 loss to Vanderbilt in an NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE — Progress rarely runs in a straight line. Still, that was quite a zigzag Tennessee made Tuesday night.

Big Orange basketball fans would be hard-pressed to find a more humbling 48 hours than what they got to start the week.

The Lady Vols were blown out by 28 points at Notre Dame on Monday. The UT men offered no pick-me-up, going down meekly 65-47 at Vanderbilt.

The former was more surprising than the latter, given that Cuonzo Martin is still at the ground-level stage of building a program in his image.

The upset of nationally ranked and defending national champion Connecticut on Saturday was an impressive step forward. Vanderbilt bowed up and shoved the Vols backward.

By the time the Commodores had claimed a 9-0 lead, Tennessee was already four turnovers down the path to perdition. The Vols would get to a staggering 25 before the final horn.

The turnovers — which led to 30 Vandy points — were the most dramatic manifestation of Tennessee's inadequacy in yet another road loss, but certainly not the only one.

Vandy's tenacious defense harassed UT into 35.3-percent shooting.

"We were posting at odd places and weird angles,'' said Jeronne Maymon, whose 15 points were one of the few bright spots for UT.

It looked as if the Vols would draw a blank behind the 3-point arc for a second game this year until Josh Richardson hit the first — and only — trey late in the game.

Even though Tennessee won the boards, 40-32, another telling sign of Vanderbilt's superior aggressiveness was a 15-0 margin in fast-break points.

After four previous SEC games in which the Vols were competitive to the end, this one begged the question:

What happened?

"We've lost a couple of games to teams where we played as hard as we possibly could,'' said Richardson, one of four freshmen on the court for the final minutes.

"That's easier to sleep at night after than this game tonight. We got out-toughed and out-fought. That's all on us.''

The environment had something to do with it. Memorial Gym is a tough house. Vandy crowds especially delight in tormenting Tennessee misplays and the Vols gave them ample opportunity.

But Vandy's veteran roster had more to do with creating a beat-down.

Kevin Stallings' program is the anti-Kentucky. John Calipari makes his living with one-and-done phenoms. They flash their skills and move on to the NBA.

Vandy's guys stick around. Tuesday's starting lineup was four seniors and junior John Jenkins. They brought a combined 524 games and 371 starts to tipoff.

Tennessee answered the bell with two freshmen and a sophomore and a combined 107 starts, 62 of them by Cameron Tatum.

Jarnell Stokes, of course, had only three previous games and one previous start. And for the first time in his young career, it showed.

Stokes got his 10 rebounds, but was held to six points. He also was tagged with seven turnovers and a technical foul.

"It was a great lesson to him,'' said Martin.

A lesson taught primarily by Festus Ezeli, Vandy's 6-foot-11, 255-pound senior center. Ezeli blocked four shots and generally made life difficult in the paint.

Martin and Stallings both come from the Gene Keady coaching tree at Purdue and believe in the same hard-nosed fundamentals.

Stallings is in his 13th year at Vandy, with as veteran a rotation as you'll see in college basketball this day and age.

Martin is in his first year at Tennessee. Tatum is his only veteran with starting experience before this year.

The difference in those two scenarios was obvious Tuesday night. Tennessee got hit in the mouth by a cagey veteran in a hostile environment and could not summon a response.

At least not on the spot. Now the question is how the Vols respond when they regroup and take the court on Saturday.

"It's not a setback at all,'' Martin insisted. "You get back to work and keep pushing forward.''

With the understanding that forward isn't always a straight line.

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 » 31

wigmeister writes:

Vandy's guys stick around because they went there to get a good education. Kentucky's guys stay one year because the majority of his recruits are there to go into the NBA. Calipari's program is a minor league for the NBA. Nothing more. That is why they are so good. An educational degree means nothing to Calipari. Just come here and we will get you drafted. I guess the University is ok with that. As far as this year is concerned for us, we will be lucky to come out of this with a 500 record. Sometimes reality is tough. Things, unfortunately, will not change for the women, as well. They will win enough games to make it to the big dance, but I do not see a long run in the tournament. As they always say for the Cubs, wait till next year!

One_in_West_Knox writes:

in response to wigmeister:

Vandy's guys stick around because they went there to get a good education. Kentucky's guys stay one year because the majority of his recruits are there to go into the NBA. Calipari's program is a minor league for the NBA. Nothing more. That is why they are so good. An educational degree means nothing to Calipari. Just come here and we will get you drafted. I guess the University is ok with that. As far as this year is concerned for us, we will be lucky to come out of this with a 500 record. Sometimes reality is tough. Things, unfortunately, will not change for the women, as well. They will win enough games to make it to the big dance, but I do not see a long run in the tournament. As they always say for the Cubs, wait till next year!

Do UT's guys stick around to get a good education??
They seem to not want to go to the NBA.
Should UT ever raise any championship banners at TBA, I just hope that the basketball program does not become one that's "one and done."

brokebackvol writes:

Last year was not good, and this year is going to be worse since UT is having to reboot the men's program yet again with a new coach. Meanwhile, Lady Vols are in uncharted territory, with injuries and coaching by committee. It's a strange time for them indeed. GBO!

DarkGable writes:

People need to relax. Games like these you learn from. This team is learning while going through the fire. But of course all you couch potato coaches and wannabe players will ridicule, its what you do. I'm sure the BP apologists will start a campaign. The Dooley haters will draw a comparison. Come on out the closet playstation coaches. Tell us what you would have done. Tell us how you can play point guard better than Trae. Oh thats right you dont play Div I hoop. You just sit around and analyze like you're a backup for ESPN. Oh you dont work for ESPN either. So you dont coach college Bball or play college ball. Emo analysts.

VolInIndy writes:

in response to DarkGable:

People need to relax. Games like these you learn from. This team is learning while going through the fire. But of course all you couch potato coaches and wannabe players will ridicule, its what you do. I'm sure the BP apologists will start a campaign. The Dooley haters will draw a comparison. Come on out the closet playstation coaches. Tell us what you would have done. Tell us how you can play point guard better than Trae. Oh thats right you dont play Div I hoop. You just sit around and analyze like you're a backup for ESPN. Oh you dont work for ESPN either. So you dont coach college Bball or play college ball. Emo analysts.

Amen and preach on brother!

BrassMonkey writes:

Still poorly coached. Not a tourney team by any means. Our basketball and football programs need to be the next houses to receive an extreme makeover.

dvols writes:

i will let Coach Martin get his own palyers in here before I make judgement on what the gigalo left him....its way too easy to state the obvious

pauln500#205995 writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

Still poorly coached. Not a tourney team by any means. Our basketball and football programs need to be the next houses to receive an extreme makeover.

We all need to keep in mind the pre-season projections. I saw one national magazine that predicted UT would have the weakest team of any major university in the country. We have far exceeded those expectations, beating FLA & UCONN and taking KY and Memphis into OT. Negative folks should get behind the program as we build toward better things.

underthehill writes:

in response to dvols:

i will let Coach Martin get his own palyers in here before I make judgement on what the gigalo left him....its way too easy to state the obvious

I could write a book and not say it better than you have in a couple of sentences..

Ironcity writes:

in response to pauln500#205995:

We all need to keep in mind the pre-season projections. I saw one national magazine that predicted UT would have the weakest team of any major university in the country. We have far exceeded those expectations, beating FLA & UCONN and taking KY and Memphis into OT. Negative folks should get behind the program as we build toward better things.

Not sure what you read but you are easily satisfied.

VolMoment writes:

in response to Ironcity:

Not sure what you read but you are easily satisfied.

Iron city, he is realistic and you don't have a clue about college basketball. I guess NC needs to fire Roy Williams for losing by approx. 30 points to Fla. State.

tennrich1 writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

Still poorly coached. Not a tourney team by any means. Our basketball and football programs need to be the next houses to receive an extreme makeover.

And you had expectations of a tourney team? Really? Loosing four starters and 75% of our scoring and you thought we would be a tourney team? Really? Hey folks we lost to a better team ON THEIR HOME FLOOR WHO WAS REELING FROM A HOME LOSS ON SATURDAY!!!!..You know we have done that to a few teams over the last 6 years...See the Memphis game last year...very similar..we had been playing poorly and getting ripped by everyone and the Tigers come to town and we put out a beatdown the likes of which you dont see everyday...it happens....POORLY COACHED? my goodness, man...

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to Ironcity:

Not sure what you read but you are easily satisfied.

I read it too. We were and are predicted to not do well in the conference. We have done better than people thought. We are making a zig zaggy progress that comes with any young team.
We are playing without a trained point...a coupla wings that are great one game and horrible the next. Martin has to get them to play consistent...great every game. NO one expected Maymon to play as well as he does. No one thought that Richardson would even see action this early. Washpun is a pleasant surprise I think for the next few years if he can find an offense.
No we're not where we want to be but like Mikey K. at Duke, it will take time to build a program.
Personally I don't want to see a few teams with the "one and dones" taking over college ball. In fact I would pull for Vandy to win the NC over the likes of Kentucky. I'll certainly be glad to see some "talents" like Stokes to come in here. But my hope is they get an education as well as play ball. This NBA farm league doesn't appeal to me at all.
Just a personal slant. I don't blame Calipari or any players to go for the money. But I'd like to see some rules that would make a player have to sit out of the draft a couple or three years before he can draft. Like I saw someone post on another thread I'd like to see them allow a player to go where he wants out of high school but if he signs with a college then he'd have to hold off a couple years anyhow for the NBA. I'd also Like to see (off the top here) collegere sign players who don't make NBA, with former schools having first shot of course.
Oh well. What is, is.
Point is that no one is satisfied including Martin. Not your best post there IC. I don't mean that as an attack 'cause I too have had some silly responses.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to DarkGable:

People need to relax. Games like these you learn from. This team is learning while going through the fire. But of course all you couch potato coaches and wannabe players will ridicule, its what you do. I'm sure the BP apologists will start a campaign. The Dooley haters will draw a comparison. Come on out the closet playstation coaches. Tell us what you would have done. Tell us how you can play point guard better than Trae. Oh thats right you dont play Div I hoop. You just sit around and analyze like you're a backup for ESPN. Oh you dont work for ESPN either. So you dont coach college Bball or play college ball. Emo analysts.

C'mon DG! We're all of us couch or stands analyzers! Don't take away our significance.
hmmmm I'm not sure what Emo analysts are. BUT I AIN'T ONE!!!

clvolfan writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

Still poorly coached. Not a tourney team by any means. Our basketball and football programs need to be the next houses to receive an extreme makeover.

Last week,great coaching,now poorly coached.How bout not much talent and learning new system.Just like the FB Vols,very far behind rest of the SEC.

FanNotSheep writes:

I agree that it is an inexperienced team, but what I don't get is when the basketball team does not give effort everyone explains it away, but when the football team gave up the whole fan base and media was ready to run the coach and the team's two best players out of town.

murrayvol writes:

"It's not a setback at all," Martin insisted.

Don't believe I woulda said that.

bspurlingcac#225603 writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

Still poorly coached. Not a tourney team by any means. Our basketball and football programs need to be the next houses to receive an extreme makeover.

This team is young and inexperanced...but they are getting outstanding coaching. I think Coach Martin will do a great job over time and so will Coach Dooley!!!

notorange writes:

in response to wigmeister:

Vandy's guys stick around because they went there to get a good education. Kentucky's guys stay one year because the majority of his recruits are there to go into the NBA. Calipari's program is a minor league for the NBA. Nothing more. That is why they are so good. An educational degree means nothing to Calipari. Just come here and we will get you drafted. I guess the University is ok with that. As far as this year is concerned for us, we will be lucky to come out of this with a 500 record. Sometimes reality is tough. Things, unfortunately, will not change for the women, as well. They will win enough games to make it to the big dance, but I do not see a long run in the tournament. As they always say for the Cubs, wait till next year!

I would venture to say that coach martin and for that fact almost any coach and school would take one and done players, coaches are judged by wins not diplomas sadly enough, i'm not saying one and done is right but its the way the system is set up now you can use it or bet the farm your competition will.

Dougb-VFL writes:

in response to FanNotSheep:

I agree that it is an inexperienced team, but what I don't get is when the basketball team does not give effort everyone explains it away, but when the football team gave up the whole fan base and media was ready to run the coach and the team's two best players out of town.

You are completely right and I commend you for telling it like it is! Alot of fans have turned their backs on Dooley and the football team but make excuses for bb when they perform poorly. I am all-vol and will support both coaches and being an athlete in 3 team sports I know a good coach when I see them and I believe despite records that DD and Cuonzo are what we need to compete for championships again. I hope that both coaches refuse to put up with players not putting forth the effort to be successful because it is a PRIVILEGE to play college sports,especially at the great University of Tennessee! VFL

pupvol writes:

in response to bspurlingcac#225603:

This team is young and inexperanced...but they are getting outstanding coaching. I think Coach Martin will do a great job over time and so will Coach Dooley!!!

is that you Griffith?

VolinCT writes:

in response to DarkGable:

People need to relax. Games like these you learn from. This team is learning while going through the fire. But of course all you couch potato coaches and wannabe players will ridicule, its what you do. I'm sure the BP apologists will start a campaign. The Dooley haters will draw a comparison. Come on out the closet playstation coaches. Tell us what you would have done. Tell us how you can play point guard better than Trae. Oh thats right you dont play Div I hoop. You just sit around and analyze like you're a backup for ESPN. Oh you dont work for ESPN either. So you dont coach college Bball or play college ball. Emo analysts.

Couldn't agree with you more!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to FanNotSheep:

I agree that it is an inexperienced team, but what I don't get is when the basketball team does not give effort everyone explains it away, but when the football team gave up the whole fan base and media was ready to run the coach and the team's two best players out of town.

OK, what is YOUR explanation? I say it was not lack of effort, it was lack of experience, lack of poise in a hostile environment, and catching a talented, experienced team playing at its best. At least three of those Vandy guys will be playing in the NBA soon. This may be one the best teams they've ever had. When you don't have a reliable go-to guy to steady the team on the floor when things go against you, a team can lose its poise. It has nothing to do with coaching or even the skill or character of the players. When a team plays a good team at their place and doesn't execute with calmness and consistency, it can get hammered. What is so puzzling about that?

johnlg00 writes:

Look at it another way, faint-hearts. Which of UT's players could start for this Vandy team? Perhaps Maymon or Stokes could return Goldbourne to the bench--THAT'S IT! Remember the recent column which showed in effect that Vandy's starting five had nearly FIVE TIMES more game experience than ours. Coaching can only do so much, and I think Martin is doing it.

doctorvol#211700 writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

Still poorly coached. Not a tourney team by any means. Our basketball and football programs need to be the next houses to receive an extreme makeover.

comforting to know that you have the answers.

doctorvol#211700 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

I read it too. We were and are predicted to not do well in the conference. We have done better than people thought. We are making a zig zaggy progress that comes with any young team.
We are playing without a trained point...a coupla wings that are great one game and horrible the next. Martin has to get them to play consistent...great every game. NO one expected Maymon to play as well as he does. No one thought that Richardson would even see action this early. Washpun is a pleasant surprise I think for the next few years if he can find an offense.
No we're not where we want to be but like Mikey K. at Duke, it will take time to build a program.
Personally I don't want to see a few teams with the "one and dones" taking over college ball. In fact I would pull for Vandy to win the NC over the likes of Kentucky. I'll certainly be glad to see some "talents" like Stokes to come in here. But my hope is they get an education as well as play ball. This NBA farm league doesn't appeal to me at all.
Just a personal slant. I don't blame Calipari or any players to go for the money. But I'd like to see some rules that would make a player have to sit out of the draft a couple or three years before he can draft. Like I saw someone post on another thread I'd like to see them allow a player to go where he wants out of high school but if he signs with a college then he'd have to hold off a couple years anyhow for the NBA. I'd also Like to see (off the top here) collegere sign players who don't make NBA, with former schools having first shot of course.
Oh well. What is, is.
Point is that no one is satisfied including Martin. Not your best post there IC. I don't mean that as an attack 'cause I too have had some silly responses.

I like your optimism, and I, too, feel good about the big picture with Martin. Washpun, however, is only occupying a scholarship. Can't shoot or handle ball. Not good qualities of a PG. Maybe he can improve, but....

rclarkvols#224537 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

I read it too. We were and are predicted to not do well in the conference. We have done better than people thought. We are making a zig zaggy progress that comes with any young team.
We are playing without a trained point...a coupla wings that are great one game and horrible the next. Martin has to get them to play consistent...great every game. NO one expected Maymon to play as well as he does. No one thought that Richardson would even see action this early. Washpun is a pleasant surprise I think for the next few years if he can find an offense.
No we're not where we want to be but like Mikey K. at Duke, it will take time to build a program.
Personally I don't want to see a few teams with the "one and dones" taking over college ball. In fact I would pull for Vandy to win the NC over the likes of Kentucky. I'll certainly be glad to see some "talents" like Stokes to come in here. But my hope is they get an education as well as play ball. This NBA farm league doesn't appeal to me at all.
Just a personal slant. I don't blame Calipari or any players to go for the money. But I'd like to see some rules that would make a player have to sit out of the draft a couple or three years before he can draft. Like I saw someone post on another thread I'd like to see them allow a player to go where he wants out of high school but if he signs with a college then he'd have to hold off a couple years anyhow for the NBA. I'd also Like to see (off the top here) collegere sign players who don't make NBA, with former schools having first shot of course.
Oh well. What is, is.
Point is that no one is satisfied including Martin. Not your best post there IC. I don't mean that as an attack 'cause I too have had some silly responses.

I find it disturbing every time someone says a kid should have to stay in school two or three years. If education is really a concern then direct any player with NBA aspirations to junior college, so after a couple of years they can leave with an associates degree. Two or three years at a university still doesn't get you a degree so it shouldn't matter whether you leave after one year or three.

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to murrayvol:

"It's not a setback at all," Martin insisted.

Don't believe I woulda said that.

I'm a big Martin supporter (so far), but I do agree with you that he says a thing or two that maybe should be left unsaid. Especially after a beatdown to a major archrival. Neither you nor I like to hear those kind of comments. We would rather hear him say "We got the living h&#! beat out of us." But I think I see his point. In spite of last night's massacre, Martin (I believe), will use this to his team's advantage.
They won't have to be reminded about last night. And in Martin's case, he will move on to the Auburn game and try to get a win, one game at a time. With the hand he has been dealt with, he has no choice. But (and I'm just guessing here), I think he is thinking how a game like this will play out in games to come. As a matter of fact, I think he has been doing this all year. That's why he is on the sidelines with his best poker face and we are, on the other hand, reaching for the Tums and extra blood pressure medicine. But unlike a few lamebrains who post on this site (probably trolls and some very fair-weather fans), I say let Martin alone and let him do his thing. He's looking for progress and wins just like the rest of us. I really like this team, but sometimes watching them makes me want to schedule a late-night dental appointment during gametime. Hmm, a root-canal versus a Tennessee beatdown. I think I'll flip a coin.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to doctorvol#211700:

I like your optimism, and I, too, feel good about the big picture with Martin. Washpun, however, is only occupying a scholarship. Can't shoot or handle ball. Not good qualities of a PG. Maybe he can improve, but....

I agree that Washpun doesn't resemble anybody's picture of a polished, skilled player at this point, but I disagree that he is "only occupying a scholarship". On the game broadcast, one of the announcers said that he had had, IIRC, ONE turnover in his last 50 minutes on the court. He might have had one or two against Vandy, but that would still have made him one of the surest Vol ball-handlers on the court. In fact, the only spell all night when the team looked remotely in synch was when he and Golden were on the court together. He needs a shot and experience but he is valuable to the team even now.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to rclarkvols#224537:

I find it disturbing every time someone says a kid should have to stay in school two or three years. If education is really a concern then direct any player with NBA aspirations to junior college, so after a couple of years they can leave with an associates degree. Two or three years at a university still doesn't get you a degree so it shouldn't matter whether you leave after one year or three.

Well, having been to college and graduating with more than one degree, I would have to say that it matters a LOT whether you have one year to go to finish or three years. There are no easy answers to the question of early entry into the pros, but if the concern is for the best interests of the college game, the current system is NOT working. Of course, I recognize that there are lots of OTHER interests which deserve consideration, but that is why no simple solution, fair to all parties, has yet emerged.

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to johnlg00:

OK, what is YOUR explanation? I say it was not lack of effort, it was lack of experience, lack of poise in a hostile environment, and catching a talented, experienced team playing at its best. At least three of those Vandy guys will be playing in the NBA soon. This may be one the best teams they've ever had. When you don't have a reliable go-to guy to steady the team on the floor when things go against you, a team can lose its poise. It has nothing to do with coaching or even the skill or character of the players. When a team plays a good team at their place and doesn't execute with calmness and consistency, it can get hammered. What is so puzzling about that?

Just wishing the people who bend over backwards to give the basketball coach enough time to have a chance (and he deserves it) to be successful would do the same for the football coach. Both inherited a challenging situation, but Dooley actually has the tougher task. In SEC basketball, only Kentucky stands above the rest of the league in terms of talent. In football, two programs stand above the entire nation. And if Martin was dealing with the roster problems Dooley has had to, right now he would only have 7 scholarship players.

Just try to be fair, that's all I ask.

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