Vols were pressing for help, found answers

Richardson, McRae started streak with text

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin calls to Tennessee guard Josh Richardson (1) as he guards Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin (10) during the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin calls to Tennessee guard Josh Richardson (1) as he guards Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin (10) during the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Sitting in a shared apartment, Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson waited for the cell phone to buzz. A response was coming, they knew it.

Then

Buzz.

Cuonzo Martin: “Good.”

Above the response, McRae’s text message read, “Just to let you know, our team really likes playing the 2-2-1.”

“Typical Coach Martin response,” McRae joked Monday, remembering the week-old exchange.

McRae sent the text message prior to the South Carolina game on Feb. 10, back when Tennessee basketball needed a shakeup. The Vols had lost two straight to Arkansas and Georgia, and seven of their last 10 games overall. McRae, a junior guard, and Richardson, a sophomore guard, sat discussing what could be different. They talked about practice, where a three-quarter court, 2-2-1 press defense and a 2-3 zone in the halfcourt gave the Vols’ offense fits.

“Why not try it on someone else, instead of beating up on each other,” McRae said.

Martin is a defensive coach. He wants in-your-shorts man-to-man defense. He wants physical play. He wants grit.

Martin’s feelings toward implementing a full-court press and, even worse, a zone defense, conjures memories of Jonathan Swift’s old political metaphor: Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.

Just replace “laws” with “zone,” “small flies” with “bad teams,” and “wasps and hornets” with “talented teams and players.”

Showing some flexibility, though, Martin agreed to mix things up. McRae and Richardson weren’t the only ones lobbying for it.

Three games — actually, three wins — later, Tennessee can be seen changing defenses and swarming all over the floor.

Martin said Monday it wasn’t a matter of swallowing his pride, but instead, “It’s me as a coach realizing what’s best for your particular personnel.”

The Vols pressed and played zone during last summer’s exhibition tour of Italy. They used a 1-3-1 zone as opposed to the current 2-3, but when the season arrived and Martin found himself without injured players Jeronne Maymon, Derek Reese and Dwight Miller, he decided to bag it.

“We didn’t want to make any guys vulnerable,” he said.

But it’s back now and LSU (15-8, 6-6 SEC), Tuesday night's visitors to Thompson-Boling Arena (TV: ESPNU 7 p.m.), will likely see an array of defensive looks from the Vols (14-10, 6-6). The change in style has worked wonders. UT’s last three opponents have averaged 55.0 points per game.

“We can get steals, get dunks, get layups,” McRae said. “That’s the kind of thing that gets the emotions high and easy points.”

While steals are sometimes the by-product, Martin’s press and zone is used more to slow opposing offenses, keep scorers out of transition and take time off the shot clock.

Feeding off 29 made field goals on Saturday, the Vols’ defense blanketed No. 25 Kentucky in a beatdown of historical proportions. The Wildcats could muster only 58 points and left Knoxville chewing on a 30-point defeat.

Now LSU, which averages 64.5 points per game in SEC affairs, is coming to Knoxville.

“As long as we keep scoring the way we are, I think you’re going to see us getting into the press a lot more,” UT guard Skylar McBee foreshadowed.

With six games remaining in a season that once teetered on the brink of oblivion, the Vols have newfound mojo. Just two weeks ago, they were 11-10 overall, 3-6 in the SEC.

“It’s amazing what confidence can do for you,” Martin said. “It’s the same team. We haven’t changed anything, outside of tweaks here and there. It’s the same system.”

Only it isn’t.

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn

© 2013 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 30

bobe4544 writes:

Well what took Martin so long to figure this out. I saw this at the beginning of the season.

SouthPaVol writes:

It's all about leadership. Each young man has ambitions to be a leader, and in turn will fight harder for success if he was in fact part of the planning process.

CCM realizes, although he is the coach, this team belongs to the players that make up our 2012-13 Vols squad. The players are on the floor; they do the work. It's essential to get players to buy into the program. The best way to get players to buy in is to make them part of the planning process.

Someone once said, a man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still. Getting the players to buy into the Vols' program is essential to winning. Some things are in concrete, like General Neyland's seven maxims in our football program. For CCM and basketball, it's hard nosed defense--which is non-negotiable. The rest is flexible, which is where the team leaders come in. Captains, team leaders, and coaches agree to a plan of attack that will lead to success.

My left-handed comment: The first two years of CCM's reign in Knoxville has seen his teams off to a slow start, then finish strong--at least we are expecting the Vols to finish strong this year. While I admire the grit towards the end of the season, next year how about we make these pacts a little earlier in the season, like before the first game. Go Vols!

hateNCloveTN writes:

in response to bobe4544:

Well what took Martin so long to figure this out. I saw this at the beginning of the season.

UK is probably looking for a new coach. You just might be the person for that job with your insight.

Noogaorange writes:

in response to bobe4544:

Well what took Martin so long to figure this out. I saw this at the beginning of the season.

Don't remember you posting that? Got any more good tips you can pass on? GBO VFL17

Futurecoach16 writes:

in response to bobe4544:

Well what took Martin so long to figure this out. I saw this at the beginning of the season.

To quote Denzel Washington in "Remember the Titans": "I run 6 plays, split veer. Just like novacaine, give it time, it always works."

BigBadVol writes:

in response to bobe4544:

Well what took Martin so long to figure this out. I saw this at the beginning of the season.

Oh good lord! We are sure you had all the answers at the beginning of the season! Where do you coach? Oh that's right, from your momma's basement.

underthehill writes:

Never give your opponent any advantage..when you are predictable on defense ..you do exactly that..Martin showing he can be flexible is a sign of strength..and a sign he is growing as a coach..you do have to fit your plan to your personel..I have been..and continue to be hopeful..Martin will be a huge success..this is another sign he will be..the way Stokes has progressed is another..getting Hubbs is another..

GreeneVol writes:

Good insight, BFQ. Exciting stuff by the VolBallers; hope to see more of it.

CoverOrange writes:

Several posters surmised early in the season that playing zone would be a good option. Not an eye opening suggestion.

dantzknox writes:

Focus on Defense. Now there's something the SEC hasn't seen a lot of before. Bout time.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Several posters surmised early in the season that playing zone would be a good option. Not an eye opening suggestion.

Witch Doctor suggested it along with Balloon hats for extra distraction as its not in the NCAA handbook. Witch Doctor everybody a hack..
Bones never lie.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to underthehill:

Never give your opponent any advantage..when you are predictable on defense ..you do exactly that..Martin showing he can be flexible is a sign of strength..and a sign he is growing as a coach..you do have to fit your plan to your personel..I have been..and continue to be hopeful..Martin will be a huge success..this is another sign he will be..the way Stokes has progressed is another..getting Hubbs is another..

I agree. A new coach has to impress upon the team that he is in charge and that he has a plan that he intends to follow. The players have to accept that the man in charge means what he says. Once that point is made and a sense of trust is created, there is room for a more collaborative relationship to develop. It would be unnerving to the players if the boss changed his mind every time somebody told him something different. That would be a sign that he really HAS no non-negotiable principles that players would violate only at their peril. However, bringing the players into the decision-making process can only encourage acceptance of whatever decisions are ultimately made, even if nothing major seems to change.

8inarow writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor suggested it along with Balloon hats for extra distraction as its not in the NCAA handbook. Witch Doctor everybody a hack..
Bones never lie.

Funny thread today, W_D. Everyone is an expert..except the coach. I am not sure why this bunch hasn't already stormed the court and fixed this problem as it was so out in the open and readily seen by all..

Theo writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Several posters surmised early in the season that playing zone would be a good option. Not an eye opening suggestion.

A broken clock is right two times a day.

BeRealistic writes:

Seems like we should let the coach & players play this game.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to 8inarow:

Funny thread today, W_D. Everyone is an expert..except the coach. I am not sure why this bunch hasn't already stormed the court and fixed this problem as it was so out in the open and readily seen by all..

Witch Doctor say most that say this is "like I said to do that!" but when you read their comments?? lol. Witch Doctor say this nothing you seen they guy that writes a 4000 word essay that does this? lol
Bones never lie.

BeRealistic writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say most that say this is "like I said to do that!" but when you read their comments?? lol. Witch Doctor say this nothing you seen they guy that writes a 4000 word essay that does this? lol
Bones never lie.

Right WD, like johnlg00.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to BeRealistic:

Right WD, like johnlg00.

Witch Doctor say there are a couple named john000 on here, but johnlg00 pretty much on the money. Witch Doctor always has to read usernames carefully as some are pretty close and Witch Doctor has wrongly at times jumped on the wrong one and feel bad and have to go sacrifice Magic herb to make up for it..lol
Bones never lie.

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

Can we try a 2-3-1 zone? (just kidding! don't rip me apart!)

VolGrad writes:

Vols looking good after the first half of the LSU game. No let down following the big win over UK.

Go Vols! Keep it going!!!

usnavyvolfan_on_duty writes:

in response to VolGrad:

Vols looking good after the first half of the LSU game. No let down following the big win over UK.

Go Vols! Keep it going!!!

Mcrae is already close to his season high. They really shooting 60+ from the field tonight??

usnavyvolfan_on_duty writes:

in response to bobe4544:

Well what took Martin so long to figure this out. I saw this at the beginning of the season.

It's a wonder you haven't won the lottery.

VolGrad writes:

in response to usnavyvolfan_on_duty:

Mcrae is already close to his season high. They really shooting 60+ from the field tonight??

Crazy, ain't it?

LSU doing pretty good holding their own, though.

Go Vols! Beat the Tiggers!!!

VolGrad writes:

Tennessee getting a little sloppy, letting LSU back in it..., then McRae hits another 3 to stop the bleeding.

Crazy.

VolGrad writes:

McRae looking like a star out there tonight with shots from all over the court. 34 points in a career high performance.

Great win over LSU!

jstoval5 writes:

in response to bobe4544:

Well what took Martin so long to figure this out. I saw this at the beginning of the season.

Sure you did. That's why you are paid millions of dollars to coach right?

mocsandvolsfan writes:

G B O

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BeRealistic:

Right WD, like johnlg00.

Apologies to all for getting carried away sometimes. At least my "novelettes" are intended to inform rather than spread hate and discontent. Read 'em or not. I'll write what I think until they kick me off the site.

Basketvol writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Apologies to all for getting carried away sometimes. At least my "novelettes" are intended to inform rather than spread hate and discontent. Read 'em or not. I'll write what I think until they kick me off the site.

Maybe he had you confused with volthrunthru. Your posts are sensible and enjoyable to read.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Apologies to all for getting carried away sometimes. At least my "novelettes" are intended to inform rather than spread hate and discontent. Read 'em or not. I'll write what I think until they kick me off the site.

I would personally not post near as much if you posted a lot more. I'd be reading.lol You and a few others always seem to know what I like to read. Info on how the game is played. Analyses of the players, game, and even the coach.

KEEP it up.

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