Cuonzo Martin expects Tennessee to be motivated tonight, and stressed the importance of getting off to a quick start in tonight’s NIT game against Savannah State.
Kentucky coach John Calipari believes if the Vols do that, it could lead to a trip to New York City, site of the NIT’s semifinals (March 27) and finals (March 29).
“I would suggest they will have a good run in the NIT -- if they choose that,’’ Calipari said on Monday’s SEC coaches teleconference. “A lot of teams go in there and they’re mad about having to play in the NIT. I’ve had teams (at Memphis) that loved it, because of where we were at that time.
“We were trying to make statements; we finished in the (NIT) Final Four a couple times and then we won the NIT. Our teams went in with something to prove.’’
Calipari took Memphis to the NIT Final Four in 2001, won the NIT championship in 2002 and returned to the NIT Final Four in 2005.
Martin believes the Vols (18-14) have plenty to prove in tonight’s game (TV: ESPNU, 8 p.m.) against the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Tigers (21-11) in the teams’ first-ever meeting.
“You have something to prove because you’re playing basketball and representing the University of Tennessee,’’ Martin said. “As long as I’m here, that should be the case every time we step on the floor.’’
Calipari said he was disappointed the SEC only got four teams into the NCAA tournament, but he suggested it was a case of bubble teams not taking care of business at the league tournament in New Orleans.
“I was sick to my stomach when Mississippi State lost, I was sick to my stomach when Tennessee lost, because then I felt Mississippi was gonna have to beat Vandy to get in,’’ said Calipari, whose Wildcats fell to the Commodores in the SEC tournament title game on Sunday.
“I felt Tennessee, if they had won that (Ole Miss) game, they would have been in,’’ he said. “Some of it falls on us coaches, we have to take care of business, and there are games our teams have got to win.
“The things Tennessee did all year, I’m still convinced they are an NCAA team.’’
The Vols lost in overtime to the Rebels in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament, 77-72, on Friday night.
Hall Out: Martin said UT junior center Kenny Hall will not play in tonight’s game against Savannah State, and his indefinite suspension will continue to be evaluated “day-by-day.’’
This will be the eighth game Hall has missed since being suspended on Feb. 15, prior to UT’s 77-58 home win over Arkansas. Hall was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.
Streaks snapped: Vols’ power forward Jeronne Maymon had his streak snapped of scoring 12 points in every SEC game when he was held to 11 points against Ole Miss prior to fouling out in overtime.
Maymon was named second-team All-SEC by the Associated Press on Monday. He was also a second-team All-SEC selection on the SEC coaches’ team released last week.
UT point guard Trae Golden had a string of 27 consecutive made free throws snapped at the 7:39 mark of the first half of the Vols’ loss to Ole Miss in the SEC tournament last Friday, splitting a pair of free throws to tie the game at 16-16.
Big Ring: Savannah State coach Horace Broadnax was a teammate of NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing on Georgetown’s 1984 national championship team as well as the Hoyas’ 1985 national runner-up squad.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32