Cuonzo Martin: Season already 'in the wind'

Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin reacts after a foul is called on Middle Tennessee State during the first half of the teams' NIT game Monday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin reacts after a foul is called on Middle Tennessee State during the first half of the teams' NIT game Monday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Cuonzo Martin despises the concept of anyone feeling sorry for him or his Tennessee men's basketball program in the wake of Monday's collapse against Middle Tennessee State.

"It's over with and in the wind," UT's first-year coach said on Tuesday. "It's time to move on, refocus, regroup and get ready to get back to work.

"We don't begin with starters in place; we have guys who started coming back, we have new guys coming in, and every position is available."

One of the winningest Tennessee season-ending runs in recent history crashed to an end when the Blue Raiders (27-6) used a 15-0 run the final six minutes to overcome an eight-point deficit and score a 71-64 victory in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament at Thompson-Boling Arena.

As much as it bothered Martin to see the Vols (19-15) lose on their home court — where UT had won eight straight and 13 of 14 entering Monday's game — the way his team was defeated was an even tougher pill to swallow.

The problem for Martin was that the manner in which MTSU won the game was neither unexpected nor surprising.

"If you look down the stretch of games, you look at how teams won games (against the Vols), they won off the ball screen with their point guard attacking the rim," Martin said. "You look at most games, that's the bottom line."

Bruce Massey averaged fewer points per game (5.5) than any MTSU starter, but against UT, the point guard went off for a career-high 20 points and 10 rebounds against defender Trae Golden.

Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis said he had, indeed, studied film of the Vols' recent games and saw the high ball screen trend from UT opponents.

But even Davis, the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year, couldn't have anticipated the success Massey would have down the stretch, scoring eight of his points in the final six minutes.

"The game just unfolded that way," Davis said, "and (Massey) just felt like he was going to have a chance to score and attack the rim."

Massey said in the postgame interview that Davis and his teammates told him Golden was growing tired, and that he should attack him off the dribble.

To Golden's credit, he did score 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting and dished out eight assists without committing a turnover.

But as Martin has stressed since taking over the job, his version of Tennessee basketball must hang its hat on defense to be successful.

There were other factors in the UT loss: The Blue Raiders out-rebounded the Vols 46-30, and Tennessee was 1-of-13 shooting beyond the 3-point arc despite many open looks.

Martin wondered aloud if concentration was a factor in UT's 19-of-30 (63.3 percent) free-throw shooting performance, and on Tuesday suggested his team might not have appreciated the NIT enough.

"You want to be an NCAA tournament team, and you were just right there, you put yourselves in position," Martin said. "Then you don't get in, and as a competitor that takes a lot out of you mentally and physically, and getting back up is not an easy thing to do.

"As a whole, I just don't know if everyone was excited."

Martin, however, said he's still proud of the players' resolve and growth over the course of the season.

Only one other UT team during the past 40 years closed the regular season with eight wins in its final nine games, the 2007-08 squad led by All-American Chris Lofton that finished the season No. 1 in the RPI rankings.

This season's team finished second in the SEC and matched last season's record despite losing four starters and being picked to finish 11th in the league at the preseason Media Day in October.

"I saw the guys get better without a doubt," Martin said. "Next year we're planning on being one of the best teams in the country, that's the bottom line."

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

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Comments » 27

kyletrktr writes:

I have a great feeling about next year... Coach Martin is one of the best coaches in the SEC, and the offseason and upcoming season is going to prove that. GBO

voloffaith writes:

Ok where are you naysayers who read the stars and can already tell us what next year holds in store for the Vols in wins and losses....

On topic, recruit, teach,practice, and play hard 40 minutes.....

Noogaorange writes:

One of the Best Teams in America? Wow - the man's got brass I'll say that. Not sure I'm buying into that just now but I think it was a great season all thing considered and I do think we'll improve moving forward. Nice season and nice job coach. Prove me wrong.... top ten won't bother me a bit!

What about that Maymon is he a warrior or what? Can't wait to see him and Stokes operating together next year!

Rocky Top League is going to fun too!

GBO

doctorvol#211700 writes:

I love Martin, but there are times that a ZONE would neutralize mismatches; at least as a change of pace.

77VolFS writes:

This year's team and last year's might have had the same record, but they had vastly different seasons. Last year's started well but was a disaster at year end - somehow they got in the dance but were blown out first game. This year's team started like they were expected to, but ended strong. As disappointing as the last game was, the Vols will indeed be one of the top teams in the SEC next year.

rockypop writes:

You can teach a kid to play defense if he has the athletic ability. But, you can't coach someone to shoot - that's a talent that's given by God. UT, like a lot of teams, doesn't have any dependable shooters. And, they haven't since Chris Lofton. You can say that defense wins championships all you want, but at the end of the game, the team that scores the most points, wins. Playing great defense is never enough. If you can't score - and that means a combination of field goals AND free throws, you're toast. Martin seems to be overly focused on defense, as was Gene Kady. And Gene Kady's teams never won anything except a bunch of regular season games. And, that won't get it anymore in today's college basketball.

vol64 writes:

IMO, we shouldn't judge this team or Coach Matin's capabilities as a coach on these last two games of the season. I believe Coach Martin was spot-on in saying the team couldn't get motivated after what must have been a tremendous let-down after a great season ending run and then missing the Big Dance as the the result of an OT loss to Ole Miss. It was obvious the team that played the last two games of the season was not the same team that beat LSU on their home court in OT and that beat a very good Vandy team in the last regular season game. Like other comments, i believe we will have a very good team next year.

CoverOrange writes:

Whether Golden was gassed or not was not the deciding factor. #1, he didn't get help closing the lane at the top, #2 he didn't get help from the forearm in his chest. Everybody in the great state of Tennessee knew UT's weakness to the high ball screen and they had 5 open days to work on it.

bjlong38326#239292 writes:

in response to rockypop:

You can teach a kid to play defense if he has the athletic ability. But, you can't coach someone to shoot - that's a talent that's given by God. UT, like a lot of teams, doesn't have any dependable shooters. And, they haven't since Chris Lofton. You can say that defense wins championships all you want, but at the end of the game, the team that scores the most points, wins. Playing great defense is never enough. If you can't score - and that means a combination of field goals AND free throws, you're toast. Martin seems to be overly focused on defense, as was Gene Kady. And Gene Kady's teams never won anything except a bunch of regular season games. And, that won't get it anymore in today's college basketball.

well put i like your post

Vol-Ghost (Inactive) writes:

Speaking of the Season being over a Source says Cuonzo Martin is interested in the Illinois job!

Pullingguard writes:

The question remains.... why didn't Martin replace Golden if he was tired and he defintely could not guard the MTSU guard who was dribbling around and thru him for points. I think Martin has to toughen up if he is to progress where UT wants to go.

GerryOP writes:

FWIW, I support Coach Zo. No one could have predicted the success our basketVols have achieved ths year. Didn't meet everyone's expecations, but damn, #2 in the SEC? Not too shabby! For a rookie coach predicted to finish #11, not bad Coach Zo ... not bad at all.

radiomafia#577548 writes:

What's this? Martin might do a Kiffin on us?
http://www.csnchicago.com/ncaa/news/S...

Ironcity writes:

The problem is UT had one and only one PG. Their were no alternatives to Golden. In the first half he gets two fouls and sits. MTSU reals off 10 straight. Mcrae and Richardson can't get the team in any offense. So you ask should we have rested Golden more? The reality is everytime he is out this team can't score. Martin knows that and thats why he is adding guards. No way you can have a small forward as your back up PG. This season was as good as could be hoped for given the lack of depth at key positions. Next year we should be vastly improved with a team loaded with upperclassmen and Stokes. I would expect nothing less then the NCAA. Mayman is a tough SOB glad he is on our side.

1965Vol writes:

in response to radiomafia#577548:

What's this? Martin might do a Kiffin on us?
http://www.csnchicago.com/ncaa/news/S...

Let's hope and pray this isn't true. If it is, the only hopes I have in life is that my high school wins everything next year and that Johnny Maestro is happily singing in heaven. At least I know the later is true.

1965Vol writes:

in response to doesitmatter:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And another Giles County refugee surfaces.

Theo writes:

in response to doesitmatter:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Wow, hemerroids acting up again?

bmaples writes:

I have to say, it has become harder and harder to read the comment threads on this site. There are some really bitter, hateful people on here.

It's one thing to say something critical about this or that play, or this or that coaching decision. It's an entirely different thing to just keep posting negative, hateful commentary, day after day after day.

The ad hominem attacks on here are amazing. Give you a user ID to hide behind, and this is how you treat others? And at least some of you probably go to church and claim to be religious in some way.

I'm glad I've discovered other sites with ways to rate and report such comments. I'll still come here to read the articles and even the columnists, but more and more I just bypass the comment sections.

And one more thing -- if you're getting all puffy about now, perhaps I'm talking about you.

Bruce in Louisville
Vol fan since 1963

One_in_West_Knox writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Whether Golden was gassed or not was not the deciding factor. #1, he didn't get help closing the lane at the top, #2 he didn't get help from the forearm in his chest. Everybody in the great state of Tennessee knew UT's weakness to the high ball screen and they had 5 open days to work on it.

Now the Vols have about EIGHT MONTHS to work on the high ball screen and other things.

RockyTopVolFan writes:

Coach Martin gave us a more exciting season than was widely anticipated, forecast, or predicted.
Good job Coach!
GO VOLS!

ball1523 writes:

in response to RockyTopVolFan:

Coach Martin gave us a more exciting season than was widely anticipated, forecast, or predicted.
Good job Coach!
GO VOLS!

youre right. go vols. we'll be a lot better next year. He has this team headed in the rigth direction.

richvol writes:

UT needs to sign two outside shooters...

johnlg00 writes:

in response to rockypop:

You can teach a kid to play defense if he has the athletic ability. But, you can't coach someone to shoot - that's a talent that's given by God. UT, like a lot of teams, doesn't have any dependable shooters. And, they haven't since Chris Lofton. You can say that defense wins championships all you want, but at the end of the game, the team that scores the most points, wins. Playing great defense is never enough. If you can't score - and that means a combination of field goals AND free throws, you're toast. Martin seems to be overly focused on defense, as was Gene Kady. And Gene Kady's teams never won anything except a bunch of regular season games. And, that won't get it anymore in today's college basketball.

I disagree that you can't teach anybody how to shoot. Let me rephrase that--a coach can demonstrate proper technique, but the player must put in disciplined time shooting alone to make that technique permanent. When Karl Malone first came into the NBA, he was about a 30% free-throw shooter; that is not a typo. Within four years, his percentage was up to around 80% and stayed that way for most of his 15-year career. When asked about his improvement, he said he was just tired of being so bad at a basic skill of the game and decided to get better at it.

The problem with most young modern players is that they start playing on playgrounds too young without proper coaching and not strong enough to employ proper technique, then they play constantly on crowded courts with no opportunity to work on a repeatable shot. They seldom work on shooting by themselves as they grow up playing the game, spending summers in AAU ball or going to camps where the main idea is to show off doing what you already do well rather than working in a disciplined manner on correcting your weaknesses. The Vols who aren't good shooters can get a lot better if they want to improve bad enough and the coaches stay on them about it.

GerryOP writes:

in response to One_in_West_Knox:

Now the Vols have about EIGHT MONTHS to work on the high ball screen and other things.

I wonder how many of you keyboard all-star coaches had even heard the term "high ball screen" before some dude said that any team could beat the Vols by using it? How many can define it? Hands? Don't see any. That's what I thought.

judyslett#1394845 writes:

Went to game early on Monday. Watched the MTSU coaches running a basketball clinic for 30 minutes with their players. Tennessee players were joking around. Swiper boy was showing off his dunking ability. Never saw a Tennessee coach out there until way later. The MTSU players were shooting at game speed and working up a sweat. There was no smiling during their warm-ups. Was Trae Golden hurt? Why not go to a zone and protect him. Bright spot was the bigs for Tennessee---Yemi, Stokes, Maymon. After the first layup drive to the basket with 7 minutes left in regulation, go to zone to protect our slow guards. Middle school kids know how to play a 2-3 zone. Who cares if this is Martin's signature defense, we don't have the team speed for man defense. Adjust to the ability level of players. Ole Miss and MTSU losses were due to lay-ups. Harder to score a lay-up in zone. The fans stood up and cheered and tried to will the Vols to a win. It seemed like MTSU cared more, hustled more, rebounded better, and shot free-throws better. Tennessee badly needs a good outside shooter, otherwise teams will continue to double down on the post players. Love Coach Martin and players, but would have liked to see more adjustments made on the defensive end.

Volfan14 writes:

For coach Martin to admit that some of his players might not have appreciated the chance to play in the NIT tournament shows the pittiful state of UT basketball, not unlike the state of UT football.
We must have a bunch of unappreciative athletes at UT in basketball and football, since all other UT students not only appreciate what they have, they also have to pay their way to stay in the classroom while some entitled athletes think they are too special to play hard against Kentucky in football or Middle TN in basketball.
Wait until these guys get out in the real world with a job they don't like but need to pay the bills, will they half heartedly go to work each day? Not for long and the UT coaches should not tolerate the attitudes of some of the current athletes.
Grif, why does Skyler McBee lead the team in minutes played on an O'fer night against Middle TN? He is a one dimensional player that is either hot or cold, with no consistency. Do you think coach Martin will continue to allow the freelance three point chugging next year that ruined the team this year? Why won't coach Martin call a timeout to try to reverse momentum when the opponents get on big runs? I just don't think Cuonzo has the fortitude to rein in hot dogs and play organized ball and I think coach Pearl did the same thing. After a while the dog and pony tricks get old and basics win out.

Volfan14 writes:

in response to ball1523:

youre right. go vols. we'll be a lot better next year. He has this team headed in the rigth direction.

Are you guys watching the same team I am? I saw a shaggy haired wall on lead the team in minutes played and miss every shot he took. Street ball looks more organized that this UT basketball team.

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