Mike Strange: Vols' tournament hopes derailed

Mike Strange
Georgia forward Nemanja Djurisic (42) and Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) fight for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Athens, Ga., Saturday, March 2, 2013. 

(AP Photo/The Athens Banner-Herald, AJ Reynolds)

Photo by AJ Reynolds

Georgia forward Nemanja Djurisic (42) and Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) fight for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Athens, Ga., Saturday, March 2, 2013. (AP Photo/The Athens Banner-Herald, AJ Reynolds)

ATHENS, Ga. — The thing about pivotal moments in a basketball season is you can’t really identify them for certain until it’s time to reflect after the season is over.

We might have seen one Saturday.

With 12 minutes on the clock, Jordan McRae rose up over the Georgia defense and buried a 3-point shot.

Tennessee’s rally from an 11-deficit was complete. The Vols led 41-40.

The sizeable contingent of UT fans in Stegeman Coliseum unleashed a pent-up roar.

Pause the videotape. In hindsight, we might look back and say that was the high-water mark of Tennessee’s 2012-13 season.

It took Georgia a mere 22 seconds to get a dunk that wiped off the Vols’ only lead of the second half. Then the Bulldogs went on to finish off a 78-68 victory.

For those 21 seconds following McRae’s bucket, it was OK to believe the Vols were going to arise from a sluggish performance — just as they had seven days earlier at Texas A&M — and nail down another road win.

For those 21 seconds, the charge toward the NCAA tournament bracket seemed back on course. A six-game winning streak would surely grow to seven. The hottest team in the SEC would leave Athens still hot.

Instead, the streak ends at six, framed by losses to Georgia.

Tennessee’s hopes of playing its way into the NCAA tournament didn’t officially end as well, but they took a shot on the jaw.

What’s left to polish up the resume for a team that’s 17-11, 9-7 SEC? Not much. A visit to lowly Auburn on Wednesday, followed by the regular-season finale against Missouri in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday.

Then it’s off to Nashville, where the only certain path to NCAA bracket is to win the SEC tournament. Historically speaking (and every other way) that’s a long shot.

It’s never over until it’s over. But getting into the bracket by any means becomes a longer shot after losing to Georgia.

The momentous upset of Florida on Tuesday had vaulted Tennessee into a legitimate March Madness contender. That scenario, however, was contingent on avoiding any 11th-hour missteps.

Saturday was a misstep. To be fair, perhaps a misstep was due.

“They’re human,’’ said coach Cuonzo Martin of his team.

To err, of course, is human.

“It’s just frustrating,’’ said McRae, “to watch our team just drop one like this.

“I don’t know about ‘first team out,’ and ‘bubble,’ I don’t pay attention to all that. We’ve still got a chance to do whatever.’’

McRae might not be a bracketologist but he knows his team shot itself in the sneakers Saturday.

His brilliant 35-point day went for naught because too many of his teammates experienced various malfunctions.

After a nearly invisible first half, Jarnell Stokes got in gear to finish with 10 rebounds and eight points. Skylar McBee’s gyroscope was out of kilter. He made only one of eight shots.

But above all, Saturday reinforced how utterly dependent the Vols are on point guard Trae Golden.

Golden missed the 68-62 loss to Georgia in Knoxville on Feb. 6 due to a strained hamstring. He returned and played his best basketball of the season during the win streak.

Saturday, the reigning SEC player of the week missed his first nine shots. His only bucket came with 16 seconds to play.

“If,’’ said Martin, “you don’t have Trae, Jordan and Jarnell productive offensively then it can be tough for you.’’

One out of three won’t get you past Georgia.

And not getting past Georgia might have run Tennessee’s NCAA tournament train off the tracks.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

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Comments » 66

linebam writes:

Really, REALLY disappointed!

JimmyJoe writes:

This is why we have a problem with Coach Martin. During that streak his team could have beaten anyone in the country... And he brackets that streak with unexplainable loses to a team that blew a 17 point second half lead to Vandy... He has to get golden to play...every game..He has to. And he just didn't not score he played horrible...goofy passes....stupid fouls....turnovers...

RashaadSalabeb writes:

Disappointing but we can still get in the tourny if we win out. Sometimes weaker teams overall just have the matchups that give you trouble.

Go Vols!

8inarow writes:

Everyone knew the win over the Gators was a fluke. This proves it.

jack4444 writes:

It's all about getting Jarnell touches down low. He doesn't have to shoot but when he doesn't get touches, the offense is stagnant and perimeter. He has to demand the ball and they need to learn how to get it to him consistently.

JimmyJoe writes:

It was golden... Stokes is not going to get the ball down low unless trae is doing his thing... They will just clamp down on him... It was all golden in this one. No one can expect to win when their most important player plays this poorly...

jt45 writes:

in response to 8inarow:

Everyone knew the win over the Gators was a fluke. This proves it.

Three straight isnt a fluke. Stop whining.

jt45 writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You know it was kind of tough hoping Bamma would lose to Fla. There arent many things worse than a bunch of leaping Lizards jumping around after a game,, sort of sick actually.

bigdisbig writes:

Well, the Vols have no chance in the SEC tourney for they will eventually have to play Ga. again and we all know they can't beat Ga.

Whats up with this team anyway? Jordan has a hot hand so FEED HIM YOU MORONS!! The guy carries the team on his back and the rest of the players want to shoot bricks. Hey Skyler...how about going for some offensive rebounds instead of standing in the corner with your finger up your rear? I am sick of seeing you want to shoot all the time and not rebounding. FEED STOKES THE BALL and let him draw some fouls at least. ITS NOT THAT HARD.

AND HEY CUONZO....YOU GOT OUT COACHED AGAIN!!
Do you realize your team has to adjust in certain games??? This game was very winable but you blew it......just like last season.

UT4prez writes:

in response to 8inarow:

Everyone knew the win over the Gators was a fluke. This proves it.

How are the fish biting today?

pratt71 writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

NIT is a moral victory.

bobe4544 writes:

in response to pratt71:

NIT is a moral victory.

You cannot spell MARTIN without NIT!

underthehill writes:

NIT don't look so bad when you think about it..not so long ago ..didn't look that good..I am still hopeful they will win the SEC tourn..but the NIT ain't all that bad for this team..

smokeygrowl writes:

Martin definitely got outcoached today but Trae and Sweet t couldn't hit shhet. So that had a lot to do with it.I agree with some of the comments on rebounding. Especially on the offensive end. I wonder if they are coached to not follow shots. How many times do u see 4 of their guys on the boards and us with Stokes rebounding against 4. Not to be too critical because they have played well to win 6 in a row. I just think with the talent that has emerged we should have won more games. McRae may be playing as well as any wing player in country. Stokes has 12 double doubles. Golden ,although injured ,is in the top four or five scorers at his position. Big Mac is decent.Hall used to be a pretty good player. Richardson and Armani are serviceable. McBee whom I love but he is really somebody that should come off the bench and give us a quick lift with couple of threes.He gets abused time after time in crucial situations defensively and its Zos fault not his. Zo thought he could guard a 6'4" Elston turner Jr.among other forwards and guards Zo has put him in bad match ups with. Mcbee is not Rodman Zo.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Looking at Stokes as a gift horse... exactly who in the hell has CCM recruited who can play any kind of ball??

All the scoring is from Bruce's kids.

pvtoe writes:

in response to 8inarow:

Everyone knew the win over the Gators was a fluke. This proves it.

Everyone knows you're a moron, this proves it!!

jt45 writes:

in response to smokeygrowl:

Martin definitely got outcoached today but Trae and Sweet t couldn't hit shhet. So that had a lot to do with it.I agree with some of the comments on rebounding. Especially on the offensive end. I wonder if they are coached to not follow shots. How many times do u see 4 of their guys on the boards and us with Stokes rebounding against 4. Not to be too critical because they have played well to win 6 in a row. I just think with the talent that has emerged we should have won more games. McRae may be playing as well as any wing player in country. Stokes has 12 double doubles. Golden ,although injured ,is in the top four or five scorers at his position. Big Mac is decent.Hall used to be a pretty good player. Richardson and Armani are serviceable. McBee whom I love but he is really somebody that should come off the bench and give us a quick lift with couple of threes.He gets abused time after time in crucial situations defensively and its Zos fault not his. Zo thought he could guard a 6'4" Elston turner Jr.among other forwards and guards Zo has put him in bad match ups with. Mcbee is not Rodman Zo.

Your comment about rebounding issues echos my own thoughts on the subject and I have wondered all season why they dont crash the boards on the offensive end. Same thing for free throws, stokes is almost always alone on the offensive boards. I understand they are trying to get the defense set but at times it really gets ridiculous watching them bolt down the floor while maybe one man gets mauled for a rebound.
McBee,s strength is NOT defense, he works as hard as any player ive ever seen but todays matchup was a bad decision IMO.

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to bobe4544:

You cannot spell MARTIN without NIT!

Let's see. Let's drop the "e" and add another "o" to your name. Just like a cup of hot tea. Will you have one lump or two?

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

Did I just notice that BQuinn quoted Joe Lunardi as saying the Vols were now one of the last four teams IN (after Baylor and Ole Miss losses)? Or am I just drinking from the Old Smoky Mountain fountain?

1vavolfan writes:

Saturday morning Lunardi had UT out of the tournament. They lose to an under 500 UGA team and now he has them as the last team in. All the other bubble teams lost too so the sky is not falling. Beat Auburn and Mizzou and UT is probably in.

bobvolfan writes:

SEC is down this year. Gators and Mizzou are only teams deserving to be in tourney. The rest of us need a good showing in the SEC tourney.

flatrock writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

This is why we have a problem with Coach Martin. During that streak his team could have beaten anyone in the country... And he brackets that streak with unexplainable loses to a team that blew a 17 point second half lead to Vandy... He has to get golden to play...every game..He has to. And he just didn't not score he played horrible...goofy passes....stupid fouls....turnovers...

Wow! What an insightful piece of gibberish, Jimmy Joe. We have no problem with Coach Martin. He is quality from top to bottom and has added a huge dose of badly-needed integrity to UTAD.

claiborneh writes:

in response to flatrock:

Wow! What an insightful piece of gibberish, Jimmy Joe. We have no problem with Coach Martin. He is quality from top to bottom and has added a huge dose of badly-needed integrity to UTAD.

Integrity smegrity
Buzz Peterson had lots of integrity.

claiborneh writes:

How about Gene Keady at Purdue.
He had lots of integrity, and he did not win a national championship in 25 years of the same boring uninspiring brand of combover basketball

hikerdude writes:

The difference in this game and the previous six-the Vols made their shots in the win streak. Last night, not so much.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to RashaadSalabeb:

Disappointing but we can still get in the tourny if we win out. Sometimes weaker teams overall just have the matchups that give you trouble.

Go Vols!

Good point; although with so many good teams on the bubble we were a long shot coming into this game..Who knew freshman guard Mann would give us so much trouble?? I don't think he really played in the last match up..Mann has been very hot this month and is a good freshman prospect..What fans are failing to see is GA really does have a lot of good young players and Fox has done a great job of rotating them. Fox has tons of role players and when it's time to play these freshman DON'T choke!!

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to smokeygrowl:

Martin definitely got outcoached today but Trae and Sweet t couldn't hit shhet. So that had a lot to do with it.I agree with some of the comments on rebounding. Especially on the offensive end. I wonder if they are coached to not follow shots. How many times do u see 4 of their guys on the boards and us with Stokes rebounding against 4. Not to be too critical because they have played well to win 6 in a row. I just think with the talent that has emerged we should have won more games. McRae may be playing as well as any wing player in country. Stokes has 12 double doubles. Golden ,although injured ,is in the top four or five scorers at his position. Big Mac is decent.Hall used to be a pretty good player. Richardson and Armani are serviceable. McBee whom I love but he is really somebody that should come off the bench and give us a quick lift with couple of threes.He gets abused time after time in crucial situations defensively and its Zos fault not his. Zo thought he could guard a 6'4" Elston turner Jr.among other forwards and guards Zo has put him in bad match ups with. Mcbee is not Rodman Zo.

Martin wasn't outcoached; more like ill prepared..Iam sure he knew Fox would throw that nancy boy zone defense at us as his only resort and the Dogs did it well..Martin hasn't been able to insert a set strategy to deal with the zone.. Martin's best way to counter was Golden and Stokes but Stokes missed a lot of lay ins that had been falling and Golden played his worst game of the season

coltsman writes:

in response to emailnodata:

Looking at Stokes as a gift horse... exactly who in the hell has CCM recruited who can play any kind of ball??

All the scoring is from Bruce's kids.

I agree 150%. Bruce's kids had leadership and they played they're hearts out. All of them could shoot FREE THROWS

BackAShoneysnFleas writes:

What a bunch of whiners! After the Florida win, where were all your negative comments? Where were all the "Martin can't coach", "Uninspired basketball", "Martin can't recruit", etc. For Pete's sake - these guys were due for a letdown. Anyone with half a brain saw this coming. I hate it, but I'm not surprised - and, I don't think it means that Martin can't coach or that he isn't prepared. Georgia was up for us - we were being touted as the hottest team in the SEC. Conversely, we weren't up for them - they were being touted as one of the WORST in the SEC. I know, I know, a good team has to be up at all times. It must be far easier to get a team psyched up for a great team versus a bad one. Georgia is a hard team for us to match up with. You guys need to grow up!

rbwtn writes:

The team can't win away from home. It's that simple why inexperience!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to RashaadSalabeb:

Disappointing but we can still get in the tourny if we win out. Sometimes weaker teams overall just have the matchups that give you trouble.

Go Vols!

Agreed, Stokes/Golden looked tired yesterday..If they can regroup and win the next 2 games I believe they can steal an at large bid..It wouldn't hurt to win a couple SEC tourney games either..GBO!!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to rbwtn:

The team can't win away from home. It's that simple why inexperience!

It's difficult in any league to consistently win on the road..I'm impressed that UT won @ USCe, @ Vandy, and @ A&M..All 3 are tough places to play, but UT desperately needs to win @ Auburn or they're looking at having to win the SEC tourney.

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

in response to flatrock:

Wow! What an insightful piece of gibberish, Jimmy Joe. We have no problem with Coach Martin. He is quality from top to bottom and has added a huge dose of badly-needed integrity to UTAD.

Maybe...but his kids don't win. Are we paying him over a million a year to be a pillar of integrity? Do people take their hard earned money, pay for a ticket, pay for parking, buy a soda and a hot dog, sit down in Thompson-Boling and say, "Man will you just look at the integrity walking on that sideline!"?

I like Martin as a person, but he needs to figure out how to win or find another job. In my mind, he deserves another year simply due to the flashes of brilliance we occasionally see out of his kids, but he ain't winning and that's his job.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho:

Maybe...but his kids don't win. Are we paying him over a million a year to be a pillar of integrity? Do people take their hard earned money, pay for a ticket, pay for parking, buy a soda and a hot dog, sit down in Thompson-Boling and say, "Man will you just look at the integrity walking on that sideline!"?

I like Martin as a person, but he needs to figure out how to win or find another job. In my mind, he deserves another year simply due to the flashes of brilliance we occasionally see out of his kids, but he ain't winning and that's his job.

Good post, If I may add that a 5* freshman is coming in next year, and the return of Maymon. CCM can actually implement his style of play with the right personnel recruited by our current staff opposed to making adjustments with players recruited from Pearl's staff. If he is still unable to consistently win after 3yrs of recruiting and coaching then I would agree he needs to be terminated.

murrayvol writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

It's difficult in any league to consistently win on the road..I'm impressed that UT won @ USCe, @ Vandy, and @ A&M..All 3 are tough places to play, but UT desperately needs to win @ Auburn or they're looking at having to win the SEC tourney.

"Difficult" yes, but necessary if one is to be an NCAA Tourney contender.

johnlg00 writes:

Not a lot to cheer about for the Vols yesterday, but it was predictable that the usual suspects would come back with all their negativity. UGA had a great game plan against the Vols. They knew that Golden had been the key to the Vols' recent success, so they set their defense to stop him. For all his recent success, Golden still has major limitations as a PG or lead guard. He mostly has to be able to drive to his right to be effective. His defender mostly just sat on his right hand and the nearest help defender was never more than a step away. They also knew that McRae alone couldn't beat them, so they left one defender on him and took their chances that he couldn't outscore their whole team. They simply didn't guard the other perimeter players. Anybody who wasn't needed to defend Golden or McRae sagged down into Jarnell's lap.

The only way to succeed against that strategy is for somebody else to step up and make some shots. UGA's role players came through in a big way; UT's didn't. That often happens on the road. Role players generally play better at home than they do on the road. There is a reason why guys are role players; they aren't the kind of players who force the other team to be particularly concerned about them as scorers. There aren't many teams that have more than two or three consistent scorers, so if you can stop one of them, you have to hope some guy you hadn't worried much about doesn't have a career game against you. If no one does, you have a pretty good shot to win.

The Vols might have had a better chance if either Golden or Stokes had played better. For one thing, when Stokes was playing more around the foul line and then dropping down on a flash-post move, which he was doing when the Vols made their push to take the lead, the offense worked better. Still, this was not Jarnell's best game. Hall once again showed that he gives up as many points as he gets. This was not a game in which the Vols could afford even a draw between Kenny and his UGA counterparts.

Ringleader writes:

Georgia does not have a single highly recruited player on its entire roster. Fox has done an outstanding coaching job, they have lost three overtime SEC games. There was a mismatch, but it was the head coach where the mismatch was.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to murrayvol:

"Difficult" yes, but necessary if one is to be an NCAA Tourney contender.

Yeah, it took the wind out of UT's sails losing on the road..I was worried about this game, because UT defended the perimeter so poorly in the first meeting against UGA. I didn't see CCM counter with anything either, but in defense of Golden he was targeted by officials for any little contact, and that frustrated him.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to Ringleader:

Georgia does not have a single highly recruited player on its entire roster. Fox has done an outstanding coaching job, they have lost three overtime SEC games. There was a mismatch, but it was the head coach where the mismatch was.

He reminds me of Buzz Peterson losing all these close games..Had he done an outstanding coaching job UGA would at least have a winning record overall.

laraccoon writes:

it was the 30 and 40 point a game style early in the season and them dropping games they could have won , now they have to win every game and that shadows the fact they had won six in a row and some over good teams . just like last year those games that got away earlier in the season is what will probably do them in .

orangeman1 writes:

I still hold out hope that if they win the next two and two in the tourny they can get in, but that doesnt seem likely so more than likely they will be NIT bound. Stokes missed some key shots and so did Golden. Mcbee was being called out all game by the announcers. I did like the way Kenny Hall came through when given the chance.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to laraccoon:

it was the 30 and 40 point a game style early in the season and them dropping games they could have won , now they have to win every game and that shadows the fact they had won six in a row and some over good teams . just like last year those games that got away earlier in the season is what will probably do them in .

Let's face it, this team is not very talented..They must out-work/hustle other team's in order to win. Yesterday they got out-worked, but 17 out of 28 games they were the harder working team. I like their odds the rest of the way, but even if they could eke into the tourney they would be fortunate to win one game..

wilk58 writes:

in response to hikerdude:

The difference in this game and the previous six-the Vols made their shots in the win streak. Last night, not so much.

Your right. Shots don't fall makes it tough to win. simple answer,

WetumpkaThumpa writes:

in response to Ringleader:

Georgia does not have a single highly recruited player on its entire roster. Fox has done an outstanding coaching job, they have lost three overtime SEC games. There was a mismatch, but it was the head coach where the mismatch was.

That's far from the truth! Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the number 12 overall prospect, a McDonalds All-American and a consensus 5 star recruit. Do a little research before spewing nonsense, I you had ever watched a Georgia game then you would have known about KCP. I'm not sure you are qualified to give your opinion on our coach?

wilk58 writes:

in response to coltsman:

I agree 150%. Bruce's kids had leadership and they played they're hearts out. All of them could shoot FREE THROWS

Selective memory. Bruce's kids could shoot free throws

lomas98 writes:

Sucks to have finally lost, but the Georgia game was not the one to determine if get into tournament or not. Auburn is the must win of the bunch as that will be a bad loss and force them to win the sec tourney. Since that has never happened, I will not count on that. A win over Missouri will trump a road loss to Georgia so this is far from over. The selection process of teams is an ever changing process and changes by each finished game. Yes, we lost but ole miss has had 2 horrible losses to the worst sec teams and that's what get you out of tourney. Tis team still has hope but cannot lose to auburn. Beating Missouri would put them in a similar position to last season where a conference tourney win would help them get in. I don't agree that hopes are derailed.

underthehill writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Not a lot to cheer about for the Vols yesterday, but it was predictable that the usual suspects would come back with all their negativity. UGA had a great game plan against the Vols. They knew that Golden had been the key to the Vols' recent success, so they set their defense to stop him. For all his recent success, Golden still has major limitations as a PG or lead guard. He mostly has to be able to drive to his right to be effective. His defender mostly just sat on his right hand and the nearest help defender was never more than a step away. They also knew that McRae alone couldn't beat them, so they left one defender on him and took their chances that he couldn't outscore their whole team. They simply didn't guard the other perimeter players. Anybody who wasn't needed to defend Golden or McRae sagged down into Jarnell's lap.

The only way to succeed against that strategy is for somebody else to step up and make some shots. UGA's role players came through in a big way; UT's didn't. That often happens on the road. Role players generally play better at home than they do on the road. There is a reason why guys are role players; they aren't the kind of players who force the other team to be particularly concerned about them as scorers. There aren't many teams that have more than two or three consistent scorers, so if you can stop one of them, you have to hope some guy you hadn't worried much about doesn't have a career game against you. If no one does, you have a pretty good shot to win.

The Vols might have had a better chance if either Golden or Stokes had played better. For one thing, when Stokes was playing more around the foul line and then dropping down on a flash-post move, which he was doing when the Vols made their push to take the lead, the offense worked better. Still, this was not Jarnell's best game. Hall once again showed that he gives up as many points as he gets. This was not a game in which the Vols could afford even a draw between Kenny and his UGA counterparts.

they simply didn't guard the other perimeter players..is right..but when this happens the unguarded players would drive the ball into traffic instead of taking the open shot.. Moore and Richardson are going to have to take their open shots and make the defense respect them..Hall took a few but also turned down an open look inside the free throw line..

underthehill writes:

in response to WetumpkaThumpa:

That's far from the truth! Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the number 12 overall prospect, a McDonalds All-American and a consensus 5 star recruit. Do a little research before spewing nonsense, I you had ever watched a Georgia game then you would have known about KCP. I'm not sure you are qualified to give your opinion on our coach?

Pope is the real deal..his defense is 5* as well as his offense..when a player can look you in the eye..jump up over you and hit the 3 pointer..one player can't defend him ..Pope does this on a consistent basis..

fredricks writes:

Bruce Pearl's show-cause ends next year. There is still hope. :)

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

More than anything, what hurt is that if UT had won, we most likely would have gotten a double bye in the SEC tourney and our chances to win the tourney would have been about 75% better. We have about a 1 in 10 chance of winning it now. Big difference!!

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