Tennessee vs. Victory University
Expectations are up, Jeronne Maymon is down and the 2012-13 season is here. Tennessee basketball, under second-year coach Cuonzo Martin, will take the floor tonight for an open-to-the-public exhibition against Memphis-based Victory University. The game serves as a final tune-up before the Vols, picked to finish fourth in the SEC, open the regular season Friday at home against Kennesaw State. They will do so without Maymon (knee), UT's leading returning rebounder and second-leading scorer, who will miss the start of the season. That said, here's what to watch for tonight.
1Only three SEC point guards — Mississippi State's Dee Bost, Kentucky's Marquis Teague and LSU's Andre Stinger — averaged more minutes per game than Trae Golden last year. His 32.0-minute-per-game clip took its toll. UT's leader in points and assists was worn down by season's end. Martin will look to trim back Golden's minutes in 2012-13 and, more notably, move him off the ball defensively. Martin believes shifting Golden off the opposing point guard will conserve him (and his shaky knees) late in games and late in the season. In his place, UT's lean, lithe, long-armed wings (primarily D'Montre Edwards and Josh Richardson) will defend the top of the key. Look for Golden to get a taste of his adjusted defensive role Monday.
2 Martin's lingering concern from last weekend's secret scrimmage against Georgia Tech was the empty hands of Jarnell Stokes. "We have to get the ball to Jarnell," he said afterward. "He can't get the ball enough." The key, more than anything else, is UT's guards committing themselves to making aggressive, effective entry passes to the post. When Stokes gets positioning on the blocks, he needs to be rewarded — more so now than ever, given Maymon's absence.
3 Edwards, with two years of junior college experience, is a far more polished product than fellow newcomer Armani Moore. Among the fresh faces tonight, including redshirt freshman Quinton Chievous, Moore (wearing No. 4) is the one to watch. The point guard from Kennesaw, Ga., will be given early opportunities to earn minutes backing up Golden. Moore is quick and shifty and has knack for making the eye-popping pass, but with that comes a tendency for head-scratching mistakes. He'll need to tone down the former and eliminate the latter to find minutes guiding the Vols.
4 UT isn't noted for its jump shooting. It is, though, known for having a slew of athletic wings capable of finishing near the basket. Thus, few things draw Martin's ire more than those slashers settling for jumpers. Peeling off screens, the coaching staff wants players like Edwards, Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson to put the ball on the deck and drive to the hoop. Those who drive versus those who settle will go a long way toward determining how minutes are distributed on the crowded wing.
5 By all accounts, Skylar McBee is shooting as well as ever. After watching his 3-point percentage dip to 34.3 percent in conference games after shooting 46.4 percent during the first half of last season, McBee spent the summer refining his jumper. Now, according to multiple players and coaches, including Martin, the work is showing. Let's see if it translates to the rims at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn