UT wants to get back to basics of playing defense

Vols start 'tough stretch' today at 'Bama

Mississippi forward Murphy Holloway (31) shoots over Tennessee forward Kenny Hall (20) in the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Mississippi forward Murphy Holloway (31) shoots over Tennessee forward Kenny Hall (20) in the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Want a mathematical and athletic absurdity?

The number is 74. It's the total points scored by Tennessee men's basketball in narrow non-conference losses to Georgetown and Virginia.

The Vols' offense matched or exceeded that number in each of their last two games. If anyone in orange were asked if that would produce wins over Memphis and Ole Miss for the defensive-minded Vols, he or she would resolutely say yes.

"Anytime you score 80 and 74, in most cases, you've won the game," said UT coach Cuonzo Martin, citing the Vols' tallies the last two games.

And yet Tennessee is on a two-game losing streak.

Oh defense, where art thou?

"Somewhere along the way, our guys subconsciously lost sight of the importance of defense," Martin said Friday. "You start scoring, you're going up and down, all the sudden you're not defending at the level you need to defend at."

Against both Memphis and Ole Miss, the Vols fell into an inviting trap. The Tigers and Rebels play a similar style: run, shoot, score, repeat. For UT, a team that languished through some historically bad offensive outings earlier in the year, the frenetic pace and high-scoring energy was ice cream on a summer day.

But then the final horn sounded. Two games. Lots of points. Two losses. The ice cream melted, leaving the Vols 8-5 overall and 0-1 in SEC play.

"For us, it's really a matter of playing defense the way we know how to play it," Martin said. "It's real simple. I think we in some ways got caught up in a scoring frenzy — going up and down, up and down. You saw the results. Our blueprint always has to be tough, hard-nosed defense."

Thus, Tennessee is hitting the reset button today in Tuscaloosa. The Vols will face Alabama (8-6, 0-1) at Coleman Coliseum in a subtly important early SEC game (TV: ESPN2, 1 p.m. ET) against a Tide team with six losses in its last eight games.

Already saddled with one league loss, UT is roving through a key stretch. A date at Kentucky's Rupp Arena follows today's visit to Bama. Then comes a home game against Mississippi State, a trip to Ole Miss and another game against Alabama, this time at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The meeting with Mississippi State is the only sure win. If disaster strikes and UT drops all those other losable games, the Vols will be starting down a 9-10 record and a 1-5 start in SEC play.

That's hypothetical, though.

Martin and the Vols would prefer to stay in the present. Still looking for their first win of 2013, they could use the good vibes.

"We need a really good performance from the team, one with energy and enthusiasm," Martin said.

The coach needn't worry about another track meet soaring into the 80s or 90s.

Alabama averages 65.7 points per game and holds opponents to 60.6. Tennessee is nearly identical, scoring 65.2 and allowing 61.3.

The Tide's two main advantages are the presence of junior Trevor Releford (16.4 ppg), who Martin calls "one of the best point guards in the country," and the home court. UT lost in Tuscaloosa, 62-50, last year and is 17-42 all-time on the road against Alabama.

For the Vols, a third straight loss is a very real possibility.

The best way to avoid it?

A counter defense.

"I think those last two games reminded our guys of the importance of defense," Martin said, adding, "This is a tough stretch for us, so we've got to be locked in, ready to go. We've got to come out of the gates ready to compete."

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

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Comments » 34

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Yeah Coach. Defense. With some offense too. We can beat 'Bama.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Run;
cut out the half-court cr@p.

Run. Quick 3's, crash the boards, run.

Enough of this boring ball nonsense.

wigmeister writes:

Here we go again!

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

Need to get a road win to make up for a home loss. Would be even nicer to get back-to-back road wins. One can dream, can't he?

macon_volfan writes:

The game was today? Gee I must have missed it, Brendan....
:-)

CoverOrange writes:

"You start scoring, you're going up and down, all the sudden you're not defending at the level you need to defend at."

First, we ain't scoring.
Second, they are scoring because we ain't defending at the level we need to defend at.
Third, shouldn't the coach call a time out and gently remind them?

born2ride writes:

It is not looking good for Martin.

BruisedOrange writes:

in response to emailnodata:

Run;
cut out the half-court cr@p.

Run. Quick 3's, crash the boards, run.

Enough of this boring ball nonsense.

Mmmmm... two problems:

1. We don't rebound well.

2. We already miss 60% of our wide open threes.

We aren't boring by strategy, style or choice. Right now we're a team with limited skill sets and limited options.

Sadly, slow & ugly is our best chance to get any wins against anyone.

lguy (Inactive) writes:

Get ready for a 50-point game. He thinks offense and defense are exclusive. What a joke.

Bogytrain writes:

Did this guy write that Miss State is a sure win?? Ummm, there are no sure wins with this team dude!

CroKev writes:

I was hoping this title was for a football thread...

reg_mza#219136 writes:

UGH...why is it that every single year we're a UT team going back to basics? Pearl teams had to do this, Martin teams have to do this, aren't they learning and retaining a bleeping thing? Another issue besides the aforementioned limited skill set, we also suffer from limited basketball IQ.

RollTideJoe writes:

Tide has lost two, inside bigs by injury for the season, so it's a struggle. Probably be a weak game.

NaniMom writes:

Stop substituting every few minutes! Let Stokes stay in the game AT LEAST for the first five minutes...any BB player knows it takes at least 5 minutes to get your groove on!

SouthPaVol writes:

Tennessee shooting the three is like a blind guy spear fishing--hit and miss, but mostly miss. We can score the ball. We have slashers, four of them, that can drive and score off the dribble and on the move. We have a big man-extraordinaire.

What we don't have are passers--folks that can dish the ball in traffic. Admittedly, Ole Miss was a hatchet team, but we gotta learn to handle the ball and find the open man. Going into cocoon-mode and calling a timeout is not the best way to break the double team.

And, where or where is the lob pass for a dunk? It seems open at times but not an option. Haven't seen a good dunk since McRae's drive four games ago.

My left-handed comment: We can score using the give-n-go, if we learn to handle the ball in traffic and attack the rim.

VOLFORLIFE writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

Tennessee shooting the three is like a blind guy spear fishing--hit and miss, but mostly miss. We can score the ball. We have slashers, four of them, that can drive and score off the dribble and on the move. We have a big man-extraordinaire.

What we don't have are passers--folks that can dish the ball in traffic. Admittedly, Ole Miss was a hatchet team, but we gotta learn to handle the ball and find the open man. Going into cocoon-mode and calling a timeout is not the best way to break the double team.

And, where or where is the lob pass for a dunk? It seems open at times but not an option. Haven't seen a good dunk since McRae's drive four games ago.

My left-handed comment: We can score using the give-n-go, if we learn to handle the ball in traffic and attack the rim.

I would agree with you, SouthPaVol, except that we have guys who can't hit a dadgummed wide open layup!!!

GO VOLS!!!
JUGHEAD

ronburgundy (Inactive) writes:

Normally I would plan my day around a Saturday game. But not anymore. This team looks confused, sloppy and out of control. When's the last time you saw a pick and roll or give and go or frankly any sort of offensive scheme from this bunch. I hate it for coach Zo, but this is a poorly coached team. Hope he figures it out soon. UT has seen enough coaching problems this century. What a mess. Say what you want about Pearl, but his teams kept you on the edge of your seat.

volaholic45 writes:

Yeah, that's what I've been seeing - a team that is just too focused on offense. Clank! Boing! Air ball! Sounds like Zo wants to win games with a halftime score plus 15.

Perhaps it is a case of scoring being a matter of talent (which you either have or you don't) and defense being a matter of will (which can be summoned with effort). Maybe Zo sees that the defensive end is the only one with growth potential.

Even if successful, that's ugly bball. Ain't nobody got time fo' dat.

SevenT writes:

Tennessee had to cheat (Pearl) to win in the past, now it is back to reality.

Just Saying

hikerdude writes:

If Releford is truly one of the best point guards in the country as CCM says, we have no chance. Our perimeter defense is not too good. BBB

mocsandvolsfan writes:

some of these posters "got no clue". Let Stokes stay in the game?? what?! You want him to foul out in the first half?

I can't agree at this point that we're "poorly coached". I disagree. It makes no difference though if the players don't do as coached. We've won 8 games somehow and should have won a couple we lost. The games we've lost invovled quick guard play by the opponent. Same as many games last year. I think this is why you saw some experiment with the zone against Ole Miss.

We should beat Alabama. But it depends on if our point and guards are in sync. We are doing better going inside out on offense. On D we can't let opponents do the lane slashing so successfully against us. It let's them get free shots from fouls. It also gets them open on the perimeter and mid-range.

I know this sounds simple but we just gotta outscore them to win. Winning is all I care about as far as the season goes. It's easier to outscore if you play good defense. Except for Richardson and McRae we don't appear to be fast enough downcourt to just outrun the other team.

ronburgundy (Inactive) writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee had to cheat (Pearl) to win in the past, now it is back to reality.

Just Saying

You win the prize for stupid post of the day. Congrats. Crawl back under your rock loser.

mikkim writes:

These have to be the most uneducated basketball fans in the country. Yeah everyone lets go fire Cuonzo because we are not undefeated! Let's fire him because you don't agree with his style of play. Please.... This team lost THE key player in Maymon. How many teams can survive the loss of their top player. Stokes is also a very young kid. I am embarrassed by the comments of some of you sidewalk alumni. Support these kids and hope for the best. I think Cuonzo is a solid coach and if he can get the results in recruiting he will be fine for a long time to come. We have such a culture that says if it not a success immediately then "fire the guy". Success is a process. If American businesses worked that way unemployment would be 50%. I am encouraged by the way these guys fight from behind and the character that these kids show on the court. Keep supporting them.

ronburgundy (Inactive) writes:

in response to mikkim:

These have to be the most uneducated basketball fans in the country. Yeah everyone lets go fire Cuonzo because we are not undefeated! Let's fire him because you don't agree with his style of play. Please.... This team lost THE key player in Maymon. How many teams can survive the loss of their top player. Stokes is also a very young kid. I am embarrassed by the comments of some of you sidewalk alumni. Support these kids and hope for the best. I think Cuonzo is a solid coach and if he can get the results in recruiting he will be fine for a long time to come. We have such a culture that says if it not a success immediately then "fire the guy". Success is a process. If American businesses worked that way unemployment would be 50%. I am encouraged by the way these guys fight from behind and the character that these kids show on the court. Keep supporting them.

That's a nice positive post but you seem to be missing the point. Supporting the coach and team is all well and good but the bottom line is building a competitive program that's technically sound. I'm not saying fire the coach. But all too often this team looks like a rec team playing school yard ball with no focus or direction. The end result is endless frustration and empty seats. You can cheer all you like but if this coach and his staff can't fill seats and pay their bills, they're in trouble. And this guys brand of basketball ain't paying the bills.

Orangeblood13 writes:

run, shoot, score, repeat

sounds logical

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee had to cheat (Pearl) to win in the past, now it is back to reality.

Just Saying

Cheating never stopped tucky, they just rehire immoral coach's until they find the perfect unethical charlatan..

gillblog writes:

in response to lguy:

Get ready for a 50-point game. He thinks offense and defense are exclusive. What a joke.

Exactly.
You have to believe he was describing unfocused team play...he COULD NOT be saying that you can't play good defense and good offense in the same game. If that's what he really meant, oh brother, the Vols are in trouble.

Somebody please tell me I am wrong !

BolivrBob writes:

These last 2 losses are very disappointing. It is pretty much taking away my excitement that I had for the season. I miss so much the excitement Pearl brought the program and early season wins over elite teams. These 2 losses just should not have happened at home. I really thought Martin was going to get it done, but after the way the season ended last year and is starting this year I have some very great concerns. I vote we bring Pearl Back once he is cleared.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to BolivrBob:

These last 2 losses are very disappointing. It is pretty much taking away my excitement that I had for the season. I miss so much the excitement Pearl brought the program and early season wins over elite teams. These 2 losses just should not have happened at home. I really thought Martin was going to get it done, but after the way the season ended last year and is starting this year I have some very great concerns. I vote we bring Pearl Back once he is cleared.

It will never happen, but I agree it would be great to have BP back at UT..BP really energized the fan-base at UT and Martin just seems to lull everybody to sleep, even the players.

DC82_Vol writes:

in response to CroKev:

I was hoping this title was for a football thread...

I was hoping the same thing. I figured out a way to get part of my life back. DVR the men's BB games. Check the scores after the games. If they are close or wins watch the games. If it's a blowout, delete the game. I just save a lot of useless time watching the team.

brokendownoldvol writes:

They will need the black curtains back up with this guy coaching.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Most of the defensive problems are because we faced off against some very good players..No secret Tigers had better players that create well off the dribble..Henderson is the top scorer in the SEC and Holloway and others were very good..Time and again Ole Miss got in the lane and knocked down 12 and 10 foot pull ups that we couldn't stop without fouling..Those are exactly the shots we need to be taking and we have 3 guys capable of doing that but they just aren't falling..We aren't winning for one simple reason we all know...25% shooting in the first half is killing us!!Period..We have no chance of beating anyone until we can shoot 43% the whole game..Every team has defensive shortcomings but if we knock down shots it doesn't matter..Also there is nothing wrong with shooting 3's to combat zone defenses; every team does it but again you better hit at least 38% of those 3's..That being said I don't see the shooting improving at Bama. We are just snake bit in that gym

GburgOrange writes:

This one is boring me to death. We can play upbeat. We did against Mem, but this slow play low score is really dull.

volforeverandever writes:

in response to SevenT:

Tennessee had to cheat (Pearl) to win in the past, now it is back to reality.

Just Saying

Cal has cheated everywhere he has been ,then when the NCAA moves in he goes to the next gig leaving the school to face the music.Just a matter of time for little blue.

Just Saying

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