Mike Strange: Vols avoid mid-major slip to Oakland this time

Mike Strange
Tennessee's D'Montre Edwards scores against Oakland at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday, November 26, 2012. Tennessee defeats Oakland 77-50. 
  
 (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Photo by Saul Young, 2012 Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee's D'Montre Edwards scores against Oakland at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday, November 26, 2012. Tennessee defeats Oakland 77-50. (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

About this time a year ago, Tennessee was embarking on a skid into mid-major hell. The first false step was in Oakland, Mich.

Then Austin Peay — a 1-9 Austin Peay for heaven's sake — came into Thompson-Boling Arena and snatched a win. Next, it was on to Charleston for another come-uppance.

Seeing the Vols go slumming was not unprecedented. It had in fact been only one year earlier that Oakland and Charleston sandwiched Knoxville wins around a desultory UT loss at Charlotte.

So looking for a theme Monday night, I pounced on Tennessee's 77-50 throttling of the one and same Oakland Golden Grizzlies.

A two-year nightmare is over.

Presbyterian and Western Carolina, you've been given notice. The Vols have put their sneakers down. No more emasculating losses to the kind of leagues that generally get only one bid to the NCAA tournament.

Coach Cuonzo Martin wasn't willing to play along with my theme that UT had made a statement by sending Oakland packing with conviction.

He sticks to his guns. Every game is the same deal. Anybody can beat you.

"I truly believe that,'' Martin said. "Cal Poly won a game last night at UCLA.

"You've got to have a level of mental and physical toughness every night regardless of who the opponent is.''

Well, that's sort of my point. If 1-9 Austin Peay can beat you on your home court, anybody can beat you.

But teams like that haven't beaten Tennessee very often, not until the last two years, one of which was on Bruce Pearl's watch and the other Martin's debut.

I'm not talking about Butler or Gonzaga. They beat all comers. And certainly not the teams from the best mid-major league, the Missouri Valley Conference. They have beaten UT like clockwork.

Way back in 1993-94, Arkansas-Little Rock and Western Carolina won back-to-back in Thompson-Boling. Of course, everybody won here that year. The Vols finished 5-22.

Since then, Tennessee Tech beat Kevin O'Neill and Chattanooga helped Buzz Peterson pack.

But that's about it, until the barricades fell the past two Decembers and the ruffians came storming over.

Martin doesn't think players in the current climate let losses fester. So he wasn't playing the revenge card on Oakland.

"Speaking for myself,'' said senior Kenny Hall, who was a free throw shy of a double-double, "It was an important win for me for the fact they did beat us two years in a row.''

The Vols looked like they had sweet revenge in mind. They were up in Oakland's shorts from the get-go.

"They're a good team,'' said Hall. "It wasn't like we were taking 'em lightly.

"It's always important to defend your home court. It could be Austin Peay, it could be Kentucky.''

Or it could be Middle Tennessee State in an NIT game. That court did not get defended last March.

But it's a new season. The players are more in tune with their coach and the toughness he demands.

"Every game is not gonna be as good as tonight,'' said point guard Trae Golden, "but when a team comes into TBA, we have to ready to protect that court for ourselves and for our fans. So we take more pride in that than anything this year.''

There was definitely some home-court pride out there Monday night.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 9

born2ride writes:

Great! Maybe we can beat the instate schools again.

AlpharettaVol writes:

We have Georgetown, Virginia, Xavier and Memphis coming up before we start SEC play. That should give a very good boost to our strength of schedule and attract some national attention. If we can take 3 of those 4 we should be in pretty good shape.

SouthPaVol writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Gotta agree with you there. All three coaches could score the ball when they played back in the day. I reckoned after CCM got the defense playing like he wanted, he and the two ACs would start working on these guy's shots. Glad to see it's making an impact.
My left-handed comment: wish we hit a few more 3s last night. That dismal effort stood between the Vols and a near-perfect game

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

Gotta agree with you there. All three coaches could score the ball when they played back in the day. I reckoned after CCM got the defense playing like he wanted, he and the two ACs would start working on these guy's shots. Glad to see it's making an impact.
My left-handed comment: wish we hit a few more 3s last night. That dismal effort stood between the Vols and a near-perfect game

3s are fun to see go in...but they're a nightmare after repeated misses. Personally I'd rather see Stokes and Hall get the the ball instead. I didn't see the game so I'm wandering if they did any screens for McBee or Golden much. They didn't talk on utsports about it.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

Gotta agree with you there. All three coaches could score the ball when they played back in the day. I reckoned after CCM got the defense playing like he wanted, he and the two ACs would start working on these guy's shots. Glad to see it's making an impact.
My left-handed comment: wish we hit a few more 3s last night. That dismal effort stood between the Vols and a near-perfect game

With reference to the comments made by several posters on the Vols' three-point shooting last night, the ones who should be taking them--namely Golden, McBee, McRae, and Richardson (and how weird is it to put him in that category after the way he shot them last year!)--made a pretty good percentage, it seemed to me. I nearly fell out of my chair when Hall took his; there was, IIRC, about 20 seconds left on the shot clock, which made that the very definition of a bad shot. Although each made one, I'm still not comfortable with Chievous and Edwards shooting them right now.

One thing is for sure, they had better have the right ones taking them and making them against Georgetown Friday night. They start four guys 6'8" or better and play a very stingy zone defense. That game could get ugly in a hurry unless the Vols figure out how to attack a zone consistently.

And that is not all about outside shooting; you beat a zone by penetrating it with the pass or the dribble and isolating the defenders. For what seems like forever, the Vols look afraid to attack the gaps off the dribble or to handle the ball in traffic. That must change or the Vols will face one zone after another all year long.

hikerdude writes:

Enjoyed the game. Free throw shooting is going to cost us a game or two unless it improves. Especially true for Stokes because he is going to get many chances.

murrayvol writes:

This is not the same team w/o Maymon. Sure hope he's not out for the season.

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to ANYONE_BUT_LIBS:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

UT plays Georgetown on the road, later this week, I think. Some cupcake. This same Hoya team took Indiana to OT last week. Indiana is currently destroying UNC by 30+. Hopefully the Vols will be ready for Hoya Paranoia, then Xavier, Virginia, and Memphis. Do your homework, Libby, and look at the schedule.

murrayvol writes:

Sound advice decades_vol.

If we beat Georgetown, folks will notice.

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