All defense, all the time for Vols at SEC tournament

Vols to open SEC against Ole Miss

Tennessee's Jeronne Maymon dribbles during team practice at Holy Cross School in New Orleans, La., Thursday, March 8, 2012. The Vols will play the winner of the Ole Miss and Auburn game on Friday.  (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee's Jeronne Maymon dribbles during team practice at Holy Cross School in New Orleans, La., Thursday, March 8, 2012. The Vols will play the winner of the Ole Miss and Auburn game on Friday. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Cuonzo Martin before practice Thursday

Cameron Tatum on UT's first SEC tournament game

NEW ORLEANS — Cuonzo Martin's defensive mindset runs deeper than scouting reports and Xs and Os scheming.

There's more to it than the physical practices the first-year Tennessee men's basketball coach commonly holds, where there is no out of bounds and no fouls called in the absence of blood.

It goes all the way back to Martin's youth, when he played basketball in the East St. Louis, Ill., projects known as The Hole.

"You don't want a guy scoring on you and talking trash if you're a competitor, and you don't want to lose," Martin said. "If you want to stay on the court and keep playing, you've got to win."

The stakes and environment have changed, but Martin has taught his team to take the same approach entering tonight's SEC tournament game at the New Orleans Arena.

The No. 2-seeded Vols (18-13) play seventh-seeded Ole Miss (19-12) tonight (TV: WVLT, 7:30 p.m.) needing a win to keep their hopes alive for an NCAA tournament at-large berth. A loss tonight would most surely resign UT to a berth in the less prestigious, but still valuable National Invitation Tournament.

Martin, however, isn't considering losing against the Rebels, whom his team defeated earlier this season, 73-60.

Neither the game plan nor approach have changed.

"I'm not hanging my hat on every shot, if it's made or missed," Martin said prior to Thursday's practice at New Orleans Holy Cross School. "But we can't live without defense. That's a way of life if you're going to wear the Tennessee uniform."

The Vols held SEC opponents to an average of 61.6 points per game this season, representing the program's best defense since the 1968-69 season. That UT team — playing before the introduction of the shot clock (1986) — held league opponents to 60.9 points per game.

But it's hardly a numbers game for the Tennessee players.

"If you don't play defense, you're coming out of the game, that's understood," senior Cameron Tatum said. "You could have just hit two shots in a row, but if you miss an assignment, Coach will pull you.

"Early on, that was kind of surprising, because some of the stuff seemed kind of minor. But to play perfect defense, you have to be anal about everything, so we are."

The mindset on the Tennessee team is such that power forward Jeronne Maymon, who leads the team with 16 charges drawn, took offense when the SEC honors came out.

Maymon was named to the second-team All-SEC team — that wasn't a problem for him.

"Being on the SEC All-Defensive team would have meant a lot more to me," Maymon said. "I think I held all the top guys in our league below their season average in scoring."

UT freshman power forward Jarnell Stokes, named to the All-SEC Freshman team, also took note of the All-SEC Defensive team.

"Jeronne should have definitely been on it," Stokes said, "because he can go out on the perimeter and take on guards or play down low."

Another facet of Martin's defensive philosophy involves what he refers to as a "brotherhood" approach.

"We pride ourselves on team defense; you help your teammate, and you know someone always has your back out there," Martin said. "That's why we have our guards help out rebounding, because sometimes our big guys can get out of position coming out (on the perimeter) and hedging on ball screens."

Martin has said from the time he was hired that his preference was for UT to exclusively play man-to-man defense.

"It's about pride, not letting your man beat you," said Martin, a defensive stopper during his playing career at Purdue 1992-95. "There ain't no magic tricks, it's not about being a super hero. It's hard work, and you've got to be a warrior at all times."

Martin was named to the nation's "All-Defensive Team" in 1995 by ESPN commentator Dick Vitale, and he judges his players by their defensive efficiency more so than how they're playing on offense.

Tatum served as proof throughout the season, as the lanky 6-foot-7 wing maintained his spot in the starting lineup despite an 10-for-52 (19.2 percent) shooting slump that ranged the eight games UT played from Jan. 24 through Feb. 18.

Martin's decision to continue to play Tatum sent a message throughout the team that the Vols' coach was serious about his defensive dictum.

Martin is convinced UT's season-ending run of eight wins in the past nine games has been keyed by his players collectively buying into the same strategy he took to the hardcourt of his run-down East St. Louis neighborhood.

"I believe our defense has finally got to the point it can win us ball games," Martin said. "Now, our team is relying on it.

"It's one thing to talk about playing great defense, it's another thing to do it."

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

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Comments » 64

bigorange4life writes:

Love the new attitude toward D the last several weeks,especially Tatum who has really transformed himself into a good defender and much better at shot selection.Like their chances this weekend. GO VOLS

wigmeister writes:

Thy should guard them so tight they feel like their in the opponents underwear!

AllVols16 writes:

Jeronne and Jarnell crashing the boards like they have been lately we will for sure outrebound ole miss! Our offense will come from our defense like they say DEFENSE WINS BALL GAMES!!

TeamXer writes:

in response to wigmeister:

Thy should guard them so tight they feel like their in the opponents underwear!

Was that what Tatum was talking about?

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

Pure D, which translates to better O, then back to D. Pure, simple, hard as h&#! to do, but this is proving to be this teams' MO. 8 wins in the last 9 SEC games. Hopefully more in the tourney. Bring on the D, and hopefully, maybe, a pair of scissors for the nets on Sunday. Old decades would dance and prance for sure, for CCM and the Vols. No matter what happens, this team looks like they're going to bring their game, every single game, for themselves, and for their coach. Through a screen door, or through a wall, here they come.

abnerPeabody writes:

Bruce who?

BruisedOrange writes:

Consistent team defense should also translate into better calls from (Conference) referees.

More phantom fouls & questionable blocking fouls are called against the defender when the offensive player has the advantage and/or seems to be the better/quicker/taller player. If you appear out-of-position, the whistle's already loaded with air.

Refs look at film, too. And once our reputation gets established, we will get better calls from non-Conference refs because that will be the "book" on us.

Already... and again, it's good to be a Vol in March. Thank you Coach Martin.

FeelVol writes:

Good read Mike!!!Go Vols and take down those Rebels.

brokebackvol writes:

I wonder how all the Coach Martin doubters are feeling now, when they were only barely willing to give the man a chance?

SevenT writes:

Tennessee needs to win 2 games to have a realistic shot at the NCAA and they have the Defense that can easily do that.

Does anyone know if Martin is going to wear that stupid orange jacket. I sure hope not

Dalton writes:

I was never a doubter nor a committed believer...more hopeful optimist...I liked the message verbally delivered by our new coach and hoped that the team would buy in...like I continue to do with Coach Dooley...the way the team has responded has been exciting and heartening....sorry NEGAVOLS...I know you were hoping that we would drop down to Division II...not just yet...hoping for a few wins this weekend and a tourney bid...build on this surge...proud no matter what else occurs

dvhill100 writes:

Good luck.

John_10065 writes:

in response to brokebackvol:

I wonder how all the Coach Martin doubters are feeling now, when they were only barely willing to give the man a chance?

A lot of them still want him fired.

FanNotSheep writes:

I hope the Vols can defeat Ole Miss. It won't be easy because both teams are playing for a chance to dance. The team that wins this game can probably get in with a win against Vanderbilt. Miss. State may have just played themselves out of the NCAA and into the NIT. They say our road loss to Georgia hurt us, if so that 10-point neutral site loss should have killed Miss. State.

I expect Ole Miss to come out hot because they've already played one and UT will probably have the jitters. But if Martin can keep them steady and they can gut out a win tonight, maybe they can kick open the door.

The players say no one thinks they are an NCAA team or deserve a 2-seed in this tournament. Tonight we can prove them right, or we can prove them wrong.

jt45 writes:

I hope the vols are shooting well from the outside also, our offense needs to be able to spread them out a bit so Maymon and Stokes can get those inside baskets and rule the paint.

underthehill writes:

Just glad they have the chance..looking forward to the game and know this team will give their all..whether it's NCAA or NIT this team stands tall in my book..

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee needs to win 2 games to have a realistic shot at the NCAA and they have the Defense that can easily do that.

Does anyone know if Martin is going to wear that stupid orange jacket. I sure hope not

Where have you been? Only Vandy and UK get the orange jacket.

FanNotSheep writes:

Some good news and some bad news in the chase for a spot.

Bubble teams that have lost include:
Northwestern
Illinois
Oregon
Miss. State
Seton Hall
USF
West Virginia

Some that need to win their conference tournaments and are still alive:
Memphis
Nevada
UNLV
Long Beach State
Akron

Bad news include teams still playing that need to lose:
Xavier
St. Joseph's
Texas
Arizona
N.C. State
Miami

According to Griff, Weber State needed to win its conference tournament, but they lost to Montana. Of course none of it matters if Tennessee loses tonight, and I really think we need to win two games to get in.

If anybody knows anything I missed or can correct a mistake, please jump in.

Huttdawg100 writes:

Defense wins championships.

SouthPaVol writes:

Defense wins championships...and hitting 50% from the field would surely help! The J&J duo are solid inside and Golden impresses. Two others have stepped up as factors the last few games, penetrating the ball and creating confusion in the defense. Tatum's power drives to the basket and McBee's dribble penetration and kick out to an open shooter added so much to our offense the last few games.

Vols are playing with a purpose, excitement is in the air, and hope springs throughout the Vol nation. Ole Miss is a good ball team and solid throughout. These guys won't roll over and wet on themselves when Smokey growls. I expect a hard fought game, and I expect a win. Go Vols!

SCVFL writes:

This coach and staff started the season with a "Plan". They got a buy in from the players and then stuck to that plan all season. It finally started paying benefits in last part of the season.
GREAT JOB by all, AND "It's Great to be a 10EC VOL"
GBO...VFL

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I love defense! Go Vols. Go Martin! Go UT!

BEAT Ole Miss!

VolJunkie writes:

I feel really good about this team going into the SECT. We have a realistic chance to make the final with a probable matchup against UK. One game at a time but I like UT's chances. Why? Because we have a coach who's philosophy is: "But we can't live without defense. That's a way of life if you're going to wear the Tennessee uniform." Offense can be streaky, defense is forever.

It's great to be a Tennessee Vol ... Go Vols!

KevDVol writes:

Best D in 43 years! That is a strong statement in your first year of coaching. Love Coach Martin!

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

Sounds like we have ourselves the basketball version of Bear Bryant. Steady. Tough. Demanding...and loved by his players.

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to KevDVol:

Best D in 43 years! That is a strong statement in your first year of coaching. Love Coach Martin!

Also a statement about Tatum, Maymon and Stokes. I think Pearl's teams played great D too, but in a fast-paced style that lent itself to higher scoring by both teams. If the trapping defense worked the Vols scored off transition, but if the trap failed the other team got lots of easy baskets on the other end. It was exciting to watch but it was a gambling style. Martin prefers to grind and wear down the opponents.

orangegrass writes:

The sad thing about Pearl is that his most exciting teams won with that press defense. He got away from that and it went down hill.

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to orangegrass:

The sad thing about Pearl is that his most exciting teams won with that press defense. He got away from that and it went down hill.

You have to have guys that fit your style. JuJuan Smith was perfect for it, CJ Watson was very good, and JP Prince had wings like a 747.

I will always be glad I got to see Pearl coach and all those players do their thing, as well as Lofton and Wheezy -- and then Bradshaw, who showed how much difference the right coach using you the right way can make.

Those days are gone and it sure looks like the new sheriff in town is going to do just fine.

jmaples54 writes:

in response to SCVFL:

This coach and staff started the season with a "Plan". They got a buy in from the players and then stuck to that plan all season. It finally started paying benefits in last part of the season.
GREAT JOB by all, AND "It's Great to be a 10EC VOL"
GBO...VFL

how refreshing to not hear the "negatrolls" (better term than negavols) at all. lose and here they come! dittos on other comments about this team's heart and defensive mindset. good stats griff: best scoring defense in the shot clock era-- nice. small suggestion: i don't say ten-ee-see, i say ten-uh-see, so instead of "10EC" how about "10SE?"

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

in response to brokebackvol:

I wonder how all the Coach Martin doubters are feeling now, when they were only barely willing to give the man a chance?

I was a Martin doubter when he was hired, but his three years at Mo. St. gave me hope.

When he was stupidly asked by a reporter if he thought the players would buy into his system and responded with "Do they have a choice?" I started to like the guy.

When he recruited Stokes, I felt optimistic about UT basketball for the first time since Pearl was fired.

I am now a full-fledged Martin supporter.

I will HAPPILY admit that I was wrong. I was wrong about Coach Martin. He has proven that he is a good coach and I think that we can expect pretty amazing things. It would not surprise me at all to see a Martin led UT team in the Final Four within three years.

So in answer to how do I feel now? Wonderful and optimistic. I am a UT fan.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

in response to brokebackvol:

I wonder how all the Coach Martin doubters are feeling now, when they were only barely willing to give the man a chance?

westknoxrepub didn't even want to give him a chance! He wanted Martin fired before the season started! Wonder why he's not posting any more trash on here? Maybe he's a gator!

I hope the VOLS make the Big Dance so that Tatum can go out on a high note! CCM and staff deserve huge kudos for getting this team to forge into a great defense in the first year! If CCM can get some good recruits, just think how far ahead this team will be next season with the core players already on board with the "D first" philosophy! GBO!

GerryOP writes:

I think we all know what westie's problem is.

TraitorLane writes:

Pat Summitt always said that you would have good and bad days shooting the basketball, but there was no excuse for not hustling and playing defense and rebounding. Coach Martin is stressing the same maxims and it seems to be working very well. Go get 'em in the SEC tourney!

GerryOP writes:

Only one team ends the season with a victory ... make it the Vols.

All Vol ... All Day ... Every Day ...

jt45 writes:

Wonder where ol Handicapper is, figured he would have one of his Bass Ackwards predictions posted by now...maybe he figured it out.

I hope this group gets in the NCAA tournament, I would like to see how Maymon and Stokes do against some more non-Conference teams. Probably would be especially good for Stokes Confidence level. You just know he is gonna slamming them home once he hits his peak.

OrangePride writes:

I have to admit, I was just a bit skeptical of this hire when it was announced. I did, however, like the way his team competed when he was here earlier in the year with Missouri State. But now I am really impressed...and happy. This team is totally different than the Pearl teams. It is so blue-colar and fundamental-oriented that it is hard to believe it's the same guys from last year. They come with lunch pails and hard hats to every game. No matter what happens from this point on, I am ON the Martin/Tennessee Vol bandwagon!

GerryOP writes:

in response to OrangePride:

I have to admit, I was just a bit skeptical of this hire when it was announced. I did, however, like the way his team competed when he was here earlier in the year with Missouri State. But now I am really impressed...and happy. This team is totally different than the Pearl teams. It is so blue-colar and fundamental-oriented that it is hard to believe it's the same guys from last year. They come with lunch pails and hard hats to every game. No matter what happens from this point on, I am ON the Martin/Tennessee Vol bandwagon!

Welcome aboard!

NO_DIGGITY writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee needs to win 2 games to have a realistic shot at the NCAA and they have the Defense that can easily do that.

Does anyone know if Martin is going to wear that stupid orange jacket. I sure hope not

He only wears it against KY and Vandy. He wears it against KY becasue he usually is a Sharp Dresser. He is afraid that the Jar of Brylcream that Cal wears will mess up his more Fashionable Jackets during the post game handshake. He wears it against Vandy because of the Stench that Coach Stallings carries. Stallings is also one of the few bald men that has Chronic dandruff. He has explained this more than once, as much as you are on here you should know the story.

On Topic -- Our D will carry us to those 2 wins you speak of.

hikerdude writes:

Have to brag a little bit. Back when the Vols were predicted to wind up 11th in the SEC, I posted that the Vols had more talent than they were being given credit for and I predicted a 17-14 record. They won some I didn't think they would win and lost some I thought they would win, but I lucked out and my prediction was pretty close.

CoverOrange writes:

I assume that this game being on WVLT means it is regional coverage and won't be shown outside of the south?

abnerPeabody writes:

in response to orangegrass:

The sad thing about Pearl is that his most exciting teams won with that press defense. He got away from that and it went down hill.

You are right. Same can be said about the Lady Vols.

VolJunkie writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

I assume that this game being on WVLT means it is regional coverage and won't be shown outside of the south?

ESPN3 or ESPNU (subject to local blackout) will have the game.

Go Vols!

kazoo writes:

I wish the Vols had gotten this message about defense from the start of the season. Our D was HORRIBLE for a stretch--teams were shooting 50/60 percent against us for halves and full games!

acworthdave writes:

in response to orangegrass:

The sad thing about Pearl is that his most exciting teams won with that press defense. He got away from that and it went down hill.

Yeah...he got away from it in '09 because he didn't have the personnel to run it. How did it work out for him that year? Elite 8 appearance and a basket from the final 4. Things certainly went downhill in '10 but it had nothing to do with a trapping D.

1vavolfan writes:

Nervous about this game. I was at the game in Knoxville and we got down 16-2, they were killing us inside, then we adjusted and made them shoot jump shots and eventually pulled away. A key to the game is not getting Maymon or Stokes in foul trouble. I'm disgusted with Kenny Hall, we could have used him in many situations down the stretch especially the Alabama and LSU games.

kcbigorngX writes:

in response to DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho:

I was a Martin doubter when he was hired, but his three years at Mo. St. gave me hope.

When he was stupidly asked by a reporter if he thought the players would buy into his system and responded with "Do they have a choice?" I started to like the guy.

When he recruited Stokes, I felt optimistic about UT basketball for the first time since Pearl was fired.

I am now a full-fledged Martin supporter.

I will HAPPILY admit that I was wrong. I was wrong about Coach Martin. He has proven that he is a good coach and I think that we can expect pretty amazing things. It would not surprise me at all to see a Martin led UT team in the Final Four within three years.

So in answer to how do I feel now? Wonderful and optimistic. I am a UT fan.

Wonderful and optimistic?

You must practice self-hypnosis.

More like shallow and bandwagon.

FeelVol writes:

in response to 1vavolfan:

Nervous about this game. I was at the game in Knoxville and we got down 16-2, they were killing us inside, then we adjusted and made them shoot jump shots and eventually pulled away. A key to the game is not getting Maymon or Stokes in foul trouble. I'm disgusted with Kenny Hall, we could have used him in many situations down the stretch especially the Alabama and LSU games.

Yea I think it's gonna be a very physical game and I'm also alittle nervous but still like our chances to pull out a win.Do believe though that we'll be ok with Yemi and Dwight as they don't seem to mind the physicality of the game as does Maymon and Stokes.

frblalack writes:

Not to say "I told you so.....buut, WE have a WINNER in Coach Cuonzo!

Win or lose tonite, Vols are on the verge of basketball greatness. In the spirit of Coach Knight... and Coach Keady, DEFENSE wins games & we have a GREAT Coach in Coach Cuonzo!!!!!!

Gotta love some Coach Martin! He should be SEC Coach of the year!

All Vols - All the Time - Love my Vols! BELIEVE!

OwensboroVol writes:

First half almost over and the only thing I've seen so far is a team where just about everyone, but specifically Skylar is afraid to take a shot. I haven't watched many games this year so I am unaware of any negative coaching actions for players taking shots, but this is terrible. These guys aren't looking for a shot at all.

Stooley_Dinks writes:

I am waiting for a Tennessee Basketball team to shake the Tennessee history and play this tourney like their coach. I suppose to suck that bad and be tied at the half is a testament to the "stick-to-the-plan" mentality of Cuonzo.

But, I am not happy that McCrae is getting shots and Maymon keeps finding a way to fumble. Stokes is lost and Ole Miss sat their bigs a lot of the half.

On the flip, I give Cam props for putting forth effort and theoretically, we will be fresher at the end. But Maymon and Stokes are going to have to find a way to hit shots, not get fouled. And, the achilles heel of the Vols since Lofton left has to be solved. Someone has to hit a doggoned shot.

Teams have hit a lot of schoolyard shots against the Vols at the end of games lately, and I fear that if we cannot get control of the game, we are going to let an inferior team beat us. Hard to bet against Coach Martin though. I just hope we have some guys step up offensively.

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