Cuonzo Martin on upcoming rematch with Ole Miss
Cuonzo Martin on playing guard at Purdue and the play of his guards
No one knew it then, but Cuonzo Martin received depth for Christmas.
In Tennessee basketball's 10 games prior to the holiday, freshmen Armani Moore and Derek Reese combined to play 55 minutes. Moore was accountable for all of them. Reese was on the shelf, recovering from a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
In the six games since Christmas, Moore has played 65 minutes, while has Reese stepped into the rotation and played 95.
Now Martin has options.
The emergence of Reese, a 6-foot-8 inside-outside threat with range beyond the arc, and Moore, an athletic 6-5 guard, offers artillery. It is also a threat to any player who might be perceived as having a set slot in the rotation.
"(Reese and Moore) really help," Martin said Tuesday at his weekly media luncheon. "They both can handle the basketball, they can make decisions with the basketball. They can make plays. I just think they are growing. They are growing on the fly."
The increased roles by each have all but eliminated minutes previously distributed to wings Quinton Chievous and D'Montre Edwards, and walk-on guard Brandon Lopez. Moreover, senior forward Kenny Hall, with Reese playing extended minutes at the four, senior shooting guard Skylar McBee, whose off-the-ball spot fits nicely with Moore, and Trae Golden, who has fallen out of the starting lineup, have seen a slight dip in minutes.
With the two freshmen seemingly destined for even more playing time, their minutes will have to come from somewhere.
Some veterans might see their minutes fall off.
"(Reese and Moore) get excited every time they're on the court and I think we've got some guys that are playing too many minutes and they don't cherish those minutes they get," UT assistant Kent Williams said during a Tuesday interview on the News Sentinel Sports Page. "So they're just going out there and going through the motions. Maybe those guys need to have some minutes taken from them at little bit. Because (Reese and Moore) are going out there and the minutes that they're given, they're taking every opportunity to do what they can."
Reese hit three second-half 3-pointers in the Vols' 72-57 win over Mississippi State last Saturday, the same day Moore filled the stat line with 11 rebounds, four points, four assists, three steals and one blocked shot.
Each expects to see plenty of playing time against No. 23 Ole Miss (15-2, 4-0 SEC) on Thursday (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.), though Moore is listed as day-to-day with a hip pointer suffered during practice Monday.
Reese spoke at Tuesday's luncheon. Sitting down in a room filled with cameras and tape recorders, he glanced around with an accompanying, "Well this isn't nerve-racking."
He handled the rest of the proceedings as smoothly as his first five games for UT.
"Both of us are going out there and doing what we do, doing what we're supposed to," said Reese, who's averaging 7.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 19.0 minutes per game. "Just being smart."
Tennessee (9-7, 1-3) is looking to avenge a 92-74 home loss to Ole Miss on Jan. 9. The 18-point defeat, which Reese repeatedly called "embarrassing," was the Vols' worst loss at Thompson-Boling Arena since a 90-72 loss to Kentucky on Jan. 13, 2009.
Out for some revenge, the Vols will face Ole Miss the same week the Rebels landed in both top 25 polls (No. 23 in Associated Press, No. 24 in USA Today/Coaches) for the first time since 2010.
Grasping for some momentum, it's a big one for Tennessee.
With that in mind, Martin reiterated that minutes in his rotation are earned, not given.
"I think each individual player is different," he said. "You watch a guy who plays at a certain level and you can always raise your level, go a little harder, compete a little bit better. You see guys make that step and some guys you can sit and keep working on it, but at some point, that's just who he is."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn