Mike Strange: Vols continue to wonder who's hot, who's not

Mike Strange
Tennessee guard Jordan McRae (52) goes up for a basket as he is covered by Vanderbilt guard Kevin Bright (15) at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. Tennessee won 58-57 over Vanderbilt. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee guard Jordan McRae (52) goes up for a basket as he is covered by Vanderbilt guard Kevin Bright (15) at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. Tennessee won 58-57 over Vanderbilt. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Cuonzo Martin on the Vols' road win

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If Cuonzo Martin had hair he would have pulled out a fistful or two by now.

Coaching this Tennessee basketball team would be less stressful if Martin could reasonably predict what he was going to get from a given player on a given night.

Yet here we are in mid-February and the Vols are like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. Every game is a revelation of its own.

The consistency of UT's inconsistency is a factor in why the Vols took until Sunday to bag their first road win of the season, 66-61 at South Carolina.

Now they try to duplicate it on Wednesday at Vanderbilt. But drawing conclusions from one game to the next is a slippery slope.

In the big picture, there is a sameness to many of Tennessee's games. By the final horn, the Vols are going to score about 60 points, give or take a few.

The mystery comes in how they arrive at their more-or-less 60.

Player X might get two points one night, 12 the next then two the next. When you're hot, you're hot. And then, probably, you're not.

The steadiest Vol is Josh Richardson, who can be counted on for seven or eight points a game.

Otherwise, roll the dice.

Jordan McRae scored double figures in 10 of 11 games. In the four games since, he's scored seven, six, 17 and seven.

Just as McRae was cooling off, Jarnell Stokes was heating up. The last double-figure game in McRae's streak coincided with the first of Stokes' five consecutive double-doubles.

Stokes, who scored four points in a loss at Kentucky and six in a loss at Alabama, is enjoying the most consistent production of his career.

Trae Golden scored in double figures eight of UT's first 10 games. He's done so only three times since. One of them was Sunday, when his 16 points were just enough to get the Vols over the hump.

If anyone should be reliable, it's seniors. Not this year.

In an eight-game stretch from Xavier through the second Alabama game, Skylar McBee only hit more than one shot once. In the past four games, he's averaged 7.5 points, a good sign for a team desperate for outside shooting.

Kenny Hall operates closer to the basket than McBee, but is even more mercurial.

Hall blew up for 13 points against Memphis — then scored a total of 10 points during his next four games.

A 14-point outing at Arkansas was optimistically billed as a springboard. But not a springboard to the deep end. Hall scored six against Georgia and then two at South Carolina.

Late-arriving freshman Derek Reese figured to be a difference-making boost when he averaged 7.4 points in his first five games.

He's averaged 2.5 in the six games since.

So, you ask, doesn't this up-and-down business go on with every team? To a degree, yes.

Still, consider last year's UT squad that finished strong.

Jeronne Maymon scored in double figures 25 of 33 games and scored at least eight points in 31 of 33. In one of the two exceptions he played only two minutes.

Golden, starting with the SEC opener, scored in double figures 20 of the final 24 games.

That's two guys Martin could count on to weigh in every night, virtually money in the bank.

In hindsight, it was quite a luxury.

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

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Comments » 13

FeelVol writes:

What a luxury it should be next year barring injury to see who joins Stokes,Maymon,Golden,and Richardson in the starting five and even more importantly who's on the floor at the end of the game.Go Vols!!!

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

We are consistently inconsistent and it's a big reason we do not score more than 60 points..Stokes is starting to take over games so that's gonna change things even more..When I watch teams like Michigan or IU something rarely changes..When one of their players pulls up for a 15 or 20 foot jump shot 80% of the time it's going in and you don't see them missing point blank lay ups and put backs..Every shot we take makes you hold your breathe..I have noticed a few things we are consistent at. Hall getting at least 4 traveling calls per game, Yemi fumbling great feeds and a healthy 17 turnovers per game.. Still I hope for the best

rockypop writes:

Offensive consistency is a problem with every college basketball team. And, that can be excused occasionally, because everybody can have a bad day at the office. But, having said that, there is no excuse for inconsistency in three critical phases of the game - defense, turnovers and free throws. If UT executes in these three phases every game, then they'll be in it.

eb502us#225637 writes:

The inconsistency is a direct result of having marginal talent at almost every position. Stokes is the only real talent this team has with Golden a distant second.

Good players find ways to play well consistently and we have a grand total of ONE who gets little help from anyone including the coach.

798orange writes:

Since this team has fewer possessions per game than most, they have to take better care of the ball to improve their chances of winning.

hikerdude writes:

It is a coaching problem. BBB

johnlg00 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

We are consistently inconsistent and it's a big reason we do not score more than 60 points..Stokes is starting to take over games so that's gonna change things even more..When I watch teams like Michigan or IU something rarely changes..When one of their players pulls up for a 15 or 20 foot jump shot 80% of the time it's going in and you don't see them missing point blank lay ups and put backs..Every shot we take makes you hold your breathe..I have noticed a few things we are consistent at. Hall getting at least 4 traveling calls per game, Yemi fumbling great feeds and a healthy 17 turnovers per game.. Still I hope for the best

No doubt it is a great benefit for a coach to be able to just plug in a given number of points per game for each of his players. Really good teams can have any of three or more players lead them in scoring in a given game. That said, it is perhaps more important that each player contribute in areas OTHER than scoring--such as defense, rebounding, keeping the ball moving, and diving on loose balls--on nights when they are not lighting up the scoreboard. It was said of Hall-of-Famer KC Jones when he and Bill Russell were leading the great University of San Francisco teams in the '50s that when they won by 30, he got two; when they won by two, he got 30. That means that he was able to get the points when they needed them but concentrated on running the team and helping others score when they didn't need him to save them. Too many modern players let their offense dictate how they play in the other phases of the game. If a player gives consistent effort in those other phases, an occasional scoring drought is no big deal.

As for Hall, his entire problem since he has been at UT appears to be lack of focus. When he is good, he looks like the star he was predicted to be when he was signed. When he isn't, he is just taking up space out there. That wouldn't be as much of a problem for the team if, as you suggest, Yemi was a sounder player. It is easy to forget that he is only in about his fifth year of playing organized ball. He does need a lot of work in the off-season on his hands and gaining his balance under the bucket so he can power the ball up with more authority. I would drill him on keeping his hands up at all times on the offensive end. He fumbles it most often when he tries to bring his hands up quickly from down at his sides to catch a pass. Great hand-eye coordination is mostly a natural talent, but if a player can be taught to be READY for the ball to come to him, he can improve considerably. "Hot hands", to use Jimmy Dykes' phrase, are also an asset for offensive rebounding, as the ball will often come off the rim sharply, so you can't wait until the ball is on you to get ready for it. As for the turnovers, that too is a matter of concentration. Guys too often tend to play the game in their own heads and not pay enough attention to the details of executing the simple things consistently. As you say, we can only hope....

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

No doubt it is a great benefit for a coach to be able to just plug in a given number of points per game for each of his players. Really good teams can have any of three or more players lead them in scoring in a given game. That said, it is perhaps more important that each player contribute in areas OTHER than scoring--such as defense, rebounding, keeping the ball moving, and diving on loose balls--on nights when they are not lighting up the scoreboard. It was said of Hall-of-Famer KC Jones when he and Bill Russell were leading the great University of San Francisco teams in the '50s that when they won by 30, he got two; when they won by two, he got 30. That means that he was able to get the points when they needed them but concentrated on running the team and helping others score when they didn't need him to save them. Too many modern players let their offense dictate how they play in the other phases of the game. If a player gives consistent effort in those other phases, an occasional scoring drought is no big deal.

As for Hall, his entire problem since he has been at UT appears to be lack of focus. When he is good, he looks like the star he was predicted to be when he was signed. When he isn't, he is just taking up space out there. That wouldn't be as much of a problem for the team if, as you suggest, Yemi was a sounder player. It is easy to forget that he is only in about his fifth year of playing organized ball. He does need a lot of work in the off-season on his hands and gaining his balance under the bucket so he can power the ball up with more authority. I would drill him on keeping his hands up at all times on the offensive end. He fumbles it most often when he tries to bring his hands up quickly from down at his sides to catch a pass. Great hand-eye coordination is mostly a natural talent, but if a player can be taught to be READY for the ball to come to him, he can improve considerably. "Hot hands", to use Jimmy Dykes' phrase, are also an asset for offensive rebounding, as the ball will often come off the rim sharply, so you can't wait until the ball is on you to get ready for it. As for the turnovers, that too is a matter of concentration. Guys too often tend to play the game in their own heads and not pay enough attention to the details of executing the simple things consistently. As you say, we can only hope....

Good call...Hall's play in the post just baffles me..His play off the dribble isn't very good and I don't really see where he's traveling while dribbling but the Refs sure seem to see it

dcap8424 writes:

in response to amyinsparta:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

An elite eight appearance and making every NCAA tournament while you're a coach is not "failing". He was a great coach that the players loved. I won't touch the football stuff but saying Dooley had narcissism is a bit much. He had the smallest ego of any coach I can think of in recent memory. He knew he was in over his head.

calvolfromkingsport writes:

in response to amyinsparta:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Right on Amy. Patience has always been a virtue.

murrayvol writes:

in response to hikerdude:

It is a coaching problem. BBB

Did CCM coach Maymon into his injury? No.

Did CCM coach Golden into his unending funk? Not from where I sit.

If both those guys were in the lineup and playing to last years numbers, we'd be damn close to undefeated. But, alas, they're not.

brod writes:

all this arguing about coach martin, and it means nothing now. his fate won't be determined by this year's team, but by next years. for now, we can just hope for an above .500 finish and an nit bid. woohoo.

claiborneh writes:

in response to amyinsparta:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I disagree that Pearl was narcissistic. I also disagree that narcissism gutted the program. Saban is about of a narcissistic stale curmudgeon you will find in coaching.

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