Jordan McRae shows signs of defense

Sophomore had 'most complete game' vs. Auburn

Tennessee forward Jordan McRae (52) defends against Auburn guard Varez Ward (1) during the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012.  (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee forward Jordan McRae (52) defends against Auburn guard Varez Ward (1) during the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

High-flying Jordan McRae is learning to become more grounded playing in coach Cuonzo Martin's system.

Proof of that came with just under 14 minutes left in Tennessee's 64-49 men's basketball victory over Auburn on Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Vols (10-11, 2-4 SEC) had just upped their lead to 38-25 on a McRae baseline jumper when the Tigers (12-9, 2-5) came racing back down the court seeking a way back into contention.

Adrian Forbes, a 6-foot-8, 232-pound forward, found a seam at the top of the key and accelerated toward the basket.

McCrae, a wispy 6-5, 174-pounder, planted himself in Forbes' path.

Onlookers winced, awaiting the inevitable collision. McRae was knocked onto his back, into the photographers behind the baseline, for the sake of drawing the offensive foul.

McRae finished with 11 points, a career-high six rebounds, two blocked shots and an assist, coming off the bench to play 25 minutes. It was the most action he had seen since scoring 19 points in a 71-65 loss at the College of Charleston on Dec. 14.

"I think it was my most complete game,'' McRae said. "Being so athletic and with my length, I think I should always get more rebounds than I do. Tonight, Coach Martin told me to get on the boards more. I have not played well in the past couple of games, so I had to do something tonight. I stepped it up.''

Martin and the Vols will need to take yet another step up if they are to compete with No. 1 Kentucky (21-1, 7-0) on Tuesday (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.) at Rupp Arena.

While Martin won't change his philosophy on the need for constant defense, UT's first-year coach concedes his team needs to improve on offense after suffering through its two worst shooting nights of the season.

The Vols shot 35.3 percent in a 65-47 loss to Vanderbilt last Tuesday before sinking to 34.5

percent in the win over Auburn.

McRae could offer an offensive spark if he can show Saturday night's performance is the start of a new trend, as opposed to an aberration.

The drawn charge was only the second McRae has taken this season, matching the number taken by UT starting point guard Trae Golden.

But while Golden has maintained his starting position despite questions about his defensive prowess, McRae was replaced in the starting lineup by defensive-minded freshman Josh Richardson prior to the Vols' 67-56 win over then-No. 13 Florida in both teams' SEC opener on Jan. 7.

It was a lineup change few could have projected at the start of the season, as many expected McRae to soar to new highs and take over as the Vols' leading scorer.

McRae flashed some of his open-floor abilities at the start of the season, averaging 15.3 points through November including back-to-back 25-point performances against Chaminade and Oakland.

But as scouting tape of UT trickled out, opponents realized that taking the ball at McRae often led to good results. Suddenly, McRae was a marked man, and his inability to come up with defensive stops has led him to time served on the bench.

Prior to the Auburn game, McRae's playing time had decreased since he played 21 minutes coming off the bench against Florida.

McRae played 19 minutes in the next game at Mississippi State, then 11 minutes against Kentucky. Ten-minute outings against Georgia and Connecticut followed before he was on the floor a season-low eight minutes in the 65-47 shellacking at Vanderbilt.

"I definitely have had to look at myself and see what I'm not doing,'' McRae said. "I have to fight through the screens and do all the little things that helps our team win.

"So I'm just constantly working on my defense, every day, trying to do what I can to stay on the floor. I just tell myself constantly to get in the gym, get the extra shots. Talent without hard work is dead.''

McRae's willingness to take the charge, rebound and play defense against Auburn sent a message that maybe the sophomore can transition into Martin's system, after all.

"Jordan did a good job, he brought his hard hat,'' Martin said following the win over Auburn. "It was good to see him going down, getting rebounds, being assertive, attacking the rim.''

Monster Maymon: UT junior forward Jeronne Maymon enjoyed the best SEC performance of his career with 15 points and 19 rebounds.

"Jeronne without a doubt, he brings his hard hat and rebounds,'' Martin said. "He has a ways to go before he's the best he can be.''

Auburn coach Tony Barbee heaped praise on Maymon.

"He's just a physical presence, and he think every time the ball hits the rim it's his,'' Barbee said. "Those are the kinds of big guys you want. We expect somebody else to get the rebound, when he thinks every rebound that hits the glass is his. That's how you've got to play as a big man. It's a toughness thing; rebounding is all about toughness.''

McBee's Defense: UT junior Skylar McBee gets most of his attention for being the most accurate 3-point shooter on the team. But McBee showed he could play good defense Saturday night, holding Auburn's leading scorer, Frankie Sullivan, to five points on 2-of-12 shooting.

"That's just paying attention to the scouting report,'' said McBee, who drew the task of trying to hold Sullivan below his 12.4 points-per-game average. "We closed out hard on him and didn't let him get a lot of good looks outside. We made him drive to the basket and our bigs did a good job stepping up and blocking shots.''

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

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Comments » 28

underthehill writes:

McRae is looking good on defense and has a knack for blocking shots..hope he gets more playing time..also shows ball handling skills and may be good option to help Golden get the ball down the floor..had a former Jr College coach tell me McRae would be an excellent outside shooter if he had better balance on his shots..squaring up better..

tennrich1 writes:

in response to underthehill:

McRae is looking good on defense and has a knack for blocking shots..hope he gets more playing time..also shows ball handling skills and may be good option to help Golden get the ball down the floor..had a former Jr College coach tell me McRae would be an excellent outside shooter if he had better balance on his shots..squaring up better..

I just think Jordan along with four or five others need to triple their time in the gym grooving that shot...

RockVegas writes:

in response to underthehill:

McRae is looking good on defense and has a knack for blocking shots..hope he gets more playing time..also shows ball handling skills and may be good option to help Golden get the ball down the floor..had a former Jr College coach tell me McRae would be an excellent outside shooter if he had better balance on his shots..squaring up better..

I wish we could get Allan Houston to stop by and show the guys how to shoot the right way,when he's in Knox-Vegas.Houston knows how to put the ball in the basket.Last September he was in Alcoa for one of his cousin's wedding.This guy shot 100 shots and only missed 3.His shot even look good when he misses.....LOL...GBO.

Ironcity writes:

in response to underthehill:

McRae is looking good on defense and has a knack for blocking shots..hope he gets more playing time..also shows ball handling skills and may be good option to help Golden get the ball down the floor..had a former Jr College coach tell me McRae would be an excellent outside shooter if he had better balance on his shots..squaring up better..

I would personally like to see Mcrae start and Tatum come off the bench. I think it fits both of their games better. I hope Mcrae will take weight training more serious in the off season because he has a chance to be really good.

eb502us#225637 writes:

McRae and Tatum are twins. Both are athletic, have ability but are without a clue of what to do on the court.

Sadly, McRae like Tatum will never tap his full potential and will be in and out of the lineup the next two years.

Hope I'm wrong but seriously doubt it.

TK writes:

McRae's jump shot is ugly! His defence is not much better.

johnlg00 writes:

Not much credit here for what Martin says about McRae's improvement. Not much credit to McRae for recognizing his weaknesses and working to improve. Now of course, the story with nearly all of these guys when they have a good game is, "Can you do it again? And again?" Well, we'll see.

I also recognize that Martin feels he has to boost the confidence of these guys, so he's going to "accentuate the positive" when he talks about them publicly. However, even I noticed that McRae's game Saturday was sounder in nearly every way than it was earlier. Maybe he really HAS learned to play under control and with better effort on defense. As I said, I guess we'll see.

BTW, as one who has studied shooters and shooting for over 50 years now, I wince every time McRae winds up for one of his sling-shot heaves. The best I hope for from him this year is to at least get his feet under him and have due regard for time, score, and teammates in better position before launching one.

johnlg00 writes:

PS: Some of you did give McRae at least faint praise, and I of course have often given him a hard time on here. We all need to remember that he is for all intents and purposes a freshman since he hardly played last year. He has had issues with physical and emotional immaturity. I think Martin is just the kind of coach who will encourage and enable him to grow as a person and a player. It would well behoove McRae to take advantage of that opportunity.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I thought McRae was a bright spot against Auburn on offense. Defense also looked better. But it's hard to give the due credit against such a poor shooting team like Auburn for our D. Our offense??? I don't get why guys playing as long as our guards have they can't get the ball to the open man. I know that Golden made one fantastic pass that even made the highlights. But that wasn't near as much as he could have assisted the bigs. At times it looks like they're wide open and ignored and at other times they make a lousy pass when the middle is covered up! Poor decisions. You see one of our bigs open in the lane or near it then you pass it to him! There should be no decision here. Who do we have inside that can't score when they're open or even single coverage. Heck even double coverage if you can pass it to them. Plus if there is double then pass it to the other big. This is not rocket science. Launching threes when your bigs can easily score is not very bright.
OK I apologize somewhat. But I wasn't very good a basketballer but I had no problem getting the ball to players 6'5" tall 250+ pounds. That's why they're called bigs! Big targets. Passes right to their hands where they can catch it or get hit in the nose with the ball.lol

brod writes:

i attended the game on saturday, fan support was pathetic at times. mcrae can really elevate. if he can continue to play that well defensively it will help the team greatly. he lacks nothing in confidence, but is still maturing as a player and hasn't reached his potential yet.

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to johnlg00:

PS: Some of you did give McRae at least faint praise, and I of course have often given him a hard time on here. We all need to remember that he is for all intents and purposes a freshman since he hardly played last year. He has had issues with physical and emotional immaturity. I think Martin is just the kind of coach who will encourage and enable him to grow as a person and a player. It would well behoove McRae to take advantage of that opportunity.

I gave Jordan praise for his game against Auburn right after watching him. I don't know whether he was given that many minutes because he has improved in practice or Martin just saw something in his matchup, but he sure made the most of his minutes. On the other hand, I have frequently said that I think he is a good candidate for transfer because his game is so much different than Martin wants. Hopefully, I'm wrong about that and he can become a defensive stopper with a scoring game, too. It sure would help this team. I agree with you about his awkward looking shot, he kinda chicken wings it with his right elbow flying out there. I don't think that and that he's not a deadly shooter are a coincidence. I also agree that he is so lightly played that he lacks experience and needs to be brought in to the fold slowly. Hopefully, this game is a sign of things to come. I'm rooting for him.

GerryOP writes:

in response to johnlg00:

PS: Some of you did give McRae at least faint praise, and I of course have often given him a hard time on here. We all need to remember that he is for all intents and purposes a freshman since he hardly played last year. He has had issues with physical and emotional immaturity. I think Martin is just the kind of coach who will encourage and enable him to grow as a person and a player. It would well behoove McRae to take advantage of that opportunity.

john, do you ever stop and wonder how much Coach 'Zo could have done with Hopson and Harris? I think the improvements would have been startling!

DougSharp writes:

Now if he could only show signs of being able to handle the rock. The turn overs on two consecutive trips down court in the second half of the Auburn game were the most pathetic attempts to pass a ball that I've seen in ALL of college basketball this year. How does a kid with that much talent allow himself to be that LAZY when he gets a chance to perform on the floor?

newtonrail writes:

in response to GerryOP:

john, do you ever stop and wonder how much Coach 'Zo could have done with Hopson and Harris? I think the improvements would have been startling!

Yes he could have helped Hopson. Not so sure about Harris. Tobias is one of those rare self motivated individuals who gave 110% off and on the court. Coach Martin may have helped the fundamentals of his defense some. He got a lot of that working out with team in fall.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to GerryOP:

john, do you ever stop and wonder how much Coach 'Zo could have done with Hopson and Harris? I think the improvements would have been startling!

I definitely think Harris could have benefited from playing for Martin. His offensive game was almost complete, but he would have become a better defensive player and passer, though he wasn't bad at those, either. The main benefit of Harris staying would have been to the OTHER players. Harris seemed to have the work ethic, self-discipline, fundamentals, and basketball IQ to understand immediately what Martin wanted and help the others catch on quicker. On the other hand, it might have made signing Stokes less likely, though we can't know any of this for sure.

Hopson, though, I just don't know. I'm afraid that he had become too impervious to coaching to put up with the hard work and discipline Martin would have required from him. IF Scotty had stayed and trusted Martin enough to accept his discipline, it would have made a WORLD of difference in his pro prospects. Sadly, that is something else we will never know.

DougSharp writes:

I would loved to have seen a team with Stokes, Harris, and Hopson all on the floor with Maymon. (Still would be missing a PG) I believe Tenn would have gotten Stokes with Pearl or Martin either one as coach due to his HS situation.

Ironcity writes:

in response to DougSharp:

Now if he could only show signs of being able to handle the rock. The turn overs on two consecutive trips down court in the second half of the Auburn game were the most pathetic attempts to pass a ball that I've seen in ALL of college basketball this year. How does a kid with that much talent allow himself to be that LAZY when he gets a chance to perform on the floor?

Doug this a weak post, especially when you say the term lazy describing Mcrae on Saturday. What I saw was a kid thats trying to fit into the team concept. He has been criticized and rightfully so for being selfish and in both of those moments (any many others against Auburn)he chose to pass the ball when he should have finished at the rim and drawn a foul. What I saw was part of the maturation process and a kid trying to do what the coach has asked him to do. As for handling the ball, it is sad that he is arguably our second best player dribbling down the court. Not sure how we got so many bad ball handlers but we do and it shows every game.

VolunteerLifer writes:

McRae will have a lot of competition for minutes next year. Chievous, Richardson, Edwards, and Reese could all conceivably earn minutes at the 2 spot or the three. Skylar is strictly a two, so that's five guys who he is in potential competition with next year. If I were him, I'd be continuing improvement on defense, work on passing and dribbling, try to become a deadly outside shooter, and gain some weight and strength. He is potentially a real scoring guard and a terrific defender with his length. We sure need the scoring.

Ironcity writes:

Love to see Mcrae at a three but he has to get stronger and bigger. If he can do that without loosing his athleticism, he could be something. Your right though he may find the two is crowded. You also forgot to mention Golden who could very well start their next year as well.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Weelll...McRae you gone need mor'n a sign to stop Ky. "here's the sign" I got my sign and you can't blow by me without reading it!! bwahahahahahaha
I'm a little stir crazy today. ok I'm not in prison just a figure of speech!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Ironcity:

Love to see Mcrae at a three but he has to get stronger and bigger. If he can do that without loosing his athleticism, he could be something. Your right though he may find the two is crowded. You also forgot to mention Golden who could very well start their next year as well.

As long as he is already, to be so young, Richardson might get minutes at the three spot next year. Put another 20 pounds on him and he could guard positions 1-4. However, I hope not even Martin is thinking about all that right now. He has his hands full getting the most he can out of everybody THIS year.

DougSharp writes:

in response to Ironcity:

Doug this a weak post, especially when you say the term lazy describing Mcrae on Saturday. What I saw was a kid thats trying to fit into the team concept. He has been criticized and rightfully so for being selfish and in both of those moments (any many others against Auburn)he chose to pass the ball when he should have finished at the rim and drawn a foul. What I saw was part of the maturation process and a kid trying to do what the coach has asked him to do. As for handling the ball, it is sad that he is arguably our second best player dribbling down the court. Not sure how we got so many bad ball handlers but we do and it shows every game.

Ironcity, as far as the lazy comment goes, it may have not been the best of words to use to describe what I wanted to say - I give you that.

I haven't seen the selfishness complaints as being valid, it's more of a maturity issue. In the beginning he seemed to have had the wrong idea that he was only going to earn more playing time on the offensive side of the court.

Now back to the turnover comment - as a former player I can't remember ever committing a turnover that wasn't avoidable if I had only used my instincts better. With good coaching and self-motivation you learn to discipline your play to a higher level of judgement thus eliminating the willingness to accept something less of yourself, such as lazy thinking and poor reaction on the court.

The positive; he is improving!

Ironcity writes:

in response to DougSharp:

Ironcity, as far as the lazy comment goes, it may have not been the best of words to use to describe what I wanted to say - I give you that.

I haven't seen the selfishness complaints as being valid, it's more of a maturity issue. In the beginning he seemed to have had the wrong idea that he was only going to earn more playing time on the offensive side of the court.

Now back to the turnover comment - as a former player I can't remember ever committing a turnover that wasn't avoidable if I had only used my instincts better. With good coaching and self-motivation you learn to discipline your play to a higher level of judgement thus eliminating the willingness to accept something less of yourself, such as lazy thinking and poor reaction on the court.

The positive; he is improving!

I understand what you are saying but his benching was because of his reckless play along with poor defense. Rushed shots impossible passes etc. I think the coaches have gotten into him to not be so selfish and to share the ball make the extra pass. In both late game situations he really should have kept the ball and finished, . Instead he kind of hesitated and decided to make what he probably thought was the team play and made an easy situation difficult. I really like Mcrae and it bugs me that he hasn't earned the playing time (and I don't think he has earned it). even though he did the wrong thing he did it for the right reasons which leads me to believe that in time he sill make the right decisions without having to think about it. Very often it just takes time to click and the light bulb to come on. For Mcrae I hope it has.

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

in response to eb502us#225637:

McRae and Tatum are twins. Both are athletic, have ability but are without a clue of what to do on the court.

Sadly, McRae like Tatum will never tap his full potential and will be in and out of the lineup the next two years.

Hope I'm wrong but seriously doubt it.

There are some similarities, but I think McRae plays with much more energy and I think that he has the potential to become All-Sec next year. Would like to see him and Richardson on the floor at the same time, with Tatum coming off the bench.

DougSharp writes:

in response to jhayes0926#638474:

There are some similarities, but I think McRae plays with much more energy and I think that he has the potential to become All-Sec next year. Would like to see him and Richardson on the floor at the same time, with Tatum coming off the bench.

I agree! I would like to see McRae and Richardson on the floor as much as possible the rest of the year now that this season is a verifiable disaster. They have TRUE promise!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to DougSharp:

I agree! I would like to see McRae and Richardson on the floor as much as possible the rest of the year now that this season is a verifiable disaster. They have TRUE promise!

Ooh, come on, Doug! "Verifiable disaster"? Difficult and intense learning experience, maybe. Yeah, yeah, semantics, I get that--tomayto, tomahto, etc. However, the players won't benefit in the long run by regarding the season as a "disaster". Failure is a powerful spur to learning as long as it doesn't lead to despair, and confidence is this team's biggest lack this season.

I do agree that McRae and Richardson should get as many minutes together as they can. I wouldn't want to shove Tatum all the way to the END of the bench, though. When he decides to play, he can still be pretty good, its just that it is generally recognized that he lets his offense inordinately affect other aspects of his game. Bring him off the bench, and if he hits his first couple of shots, leave him in for awhile; he may be having one of his half-dozen really good games in a season. If not, sit him back down.

DougSharp writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Ooh, come on, Doug! "Verifiable disaster"? Difficult and intense learning experience, maybe. Yeah, yeah, semantics, I get that--tomayto, tomahto, etc. However, the players won't benefit in the long run by regarding the season as a "disaster". Failure is a powerful spur to learning as long as it doesn't lead to despair, and confidence is this team's biggest lack this season.

I do agree that McRae and Richardson should get as many minutes together as they can. I wouldn't want to shove Tatum all the way to the END of the bench, though. When he decides to play, he can still be pretty good, its just that it is generally recognized that he lets his offense inordinately affect other aspects of his game. Bring him off the bench, and if he hits his first couple of shots, leave him in for awhile; he may be having one of his half-dozen really good games in a season. If not, sit him back down.

You're correct John, I overstated my position. Disaster as in failing to make a post season tournament, ending up 3 games under .500, not winning a single road game all year (save the Hawaii speech) and losing to teams like Oakland and Austin Peay. Okay, it wasn't a disaster, just not very good. The kids have gotten some experience that will certainly payoff next year. That's why I say; go ahead and get your starting line up for next year in there with the exception of the JC transfer that will be your PG. Let them develop some chemistry down the stretch, maybe even pull out an unsuspecting win, and even surprise a team or two in the SEC tourney. These kids have talent! Whats there to lose?

johnlg00 writes:

in response to DougSharp:

You're correct John, I overstated my position. Disaster as in failing to make a post season tournament, ending up 3 games under .500, not winning a single road game all year (save the Hawaii speech) and losing to teams like Oakland and Austin Peay. Okay, it wasn't a disaster, just not very good. The kids have gotten some experience that will certainly payoff next year. That's why I say; go ahead and get your starting line up for next year in there with the exception of the JC transfer that will be your PG. Let them develop some chemistry down the stretch, maybe even pull out an unsuspecting win, and even surprise a team or two in the SEC tourney. These kids have talent! Whats there to lose?

We're cool, bud. I would call the results you describe as a mild disappointment, but no more, as long as the players really ARE absorbing the lessons that could make them better in the future. But, hey, look on the bright side! None of those things you mentioned have happened yet. Yeah, they will have to continue to get better to do better than that, but stranger things have happened. "Sufficient unto the day are the cares thereof." Let's just be glad that if UK "kills" us, they won't actually eat us, and we can live to fight another day!

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