Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin only speaks in measured tones.
Never too high, never too low.
So as his Vols enter SEC play tonight with an 8-4 record and moving forward without Jeronne Maymon for the rest of the season, Martin delivered his plainly patented circumstances earlier this week.
"I wouldn't say (there's) pressure," UT's second-year men's basketball coach said. "We just need to win ball games."
Sixty-eight days from Selection Sunday, the Vols' road through conference play begins tonight against the team that dropped the hatchet on last year's NCAA tournament hopes. Ole Miss (11-2) is coming to Thompson-Boling Arena.
The last meeting went to overtime. The Rebels survived, 77-72, and filled in the final lines of UT's lacking NCAA tournament resume with a SEC tournament quarterfinal loss.
The Vols launched 34 3-pointers over Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy's zone defense that night in New Orleans. They made 11, but were out of their element all night.
Kennedy and the Rebels will look for a repeat tonight (TV: WVLT, 8 p.m.). At 29.1 percent, Tennessee's 3-point shooting ranks 307th nationally.
"I definitely expect them to zone us (because of) our history with the zone, not being able to shoot so well," UT point guard Trae Golden said Monday.
Improved play from Golden is UT's biggest issue entering conference play, now that the weightiest question of the season was answered Sunday when the school announced Maymon (knee) is redshirting the season.
Golden is 1-for-16 from the field in his past three games. He's committed six turnovers against just a pair of assists in the last two.
After masking a 1-for-9 shooting night against Western Carolina by making eight of 10 free throws to finish with 10 points, Golden hit a brick wall in an ensuing practice. Trying to fight through a screen, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound guard ricocheted off 6-foot-8, 270-pound forward Jarnell Stokes.
The resulting bruised left shoulder has limited Golden's play and playing time. He's seen 21 and 23 minutes in the two games since. Prior to the injury, he boasted a team-high 32.8 minutes per game.
Asked about Golden on Monday, Martin said, "I don't think it's bothering him." Posed a follow-up about the junior's confidence after recent appearances, Martin responded, "He is returning as a starter. He knows what to do out there, knows the system, knows when to attack and be aggressive. It is just a matter of doing it."
Later in the day, Golden said the shoulder bruise makes it "hard to lift my arm up in that area."
Golden will wear Kinesio tape on the shoulder for the foreseeable future. The tape provides support and stability to joints and muscles without affecting circulation and range of motion.
Missing one game with a sprained knee after debuting with seven points against Xavier, freshman forward Derek Reese, another injured question mark, will return tonight.
Healthy or not, SEC play awaits the Vols.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn