Vols staying fresh in order to avoid saving legs in SEC tournament

Cuonzo Martin on Trae Golden

Cuonzo Martin on Jordan McRae

Cuonzo Martin on Jarnell Stokes

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Four games in four days. One-hundred, sixty minutes.

That’s what it will take if Tennessee basketball wants some SEC nets.

Setting course for the conference tournament, UT coach Cuonzo Martin said the fifth-seeded Vols will need “fresh legs” if they hope to notch four wins in Nashville this week. For a team with four players — Jordan McRae, Trae Golden, Josh Richardson and Jarnell Stokes — who played more than 29.9 minutes per game in league play, that’s no small concern.

In Saturday’s win over Missouri, McRae and Golden each logged 37 minutes. Richardson played 36. Stokes played 30. That’s been a typical night since Martin shifted to a four-guard look nine games ago.

Tennessee (19-11, 11-7 SEC) won eight of those games, proving it worked, but is that workload feasible for four straight days?

Martin claimed he’ll stick with what works, saying on Monday he won’t “save legs,” in UT’s first game against either 12th-seeded South Carolina (14-17) or 13th-seeded Mississippi State (9-21) on Thursday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.). Nor will he in Friday’s potential quarterfinal with fourth-seeded Alabama (20-11).

In between, though, the Vols can anticipate less on-court work.

“This time of year, you’ve got to have fresh legs,” Martin said. “You can’t go out there and practice an hour, two hours, three hours. That’s a long time and you get bogged down. With our key guys, they’ve got to play major minutes for us.”

Like in any postseason tournament, UT will need role players outside its trio of all-conference candidates — McRae, Stokes, Golden — to step up.

When each of the stars were asked Monday who it would be, each delivered a different answer.

“We’ve been getting some great play from Skylar (McBee), Josh and Armani (Moore),” said McRae.

“Obviously Josh,” Golden said.

“Kenny (Hall) has really stepped up and (Quinton Chievous) has brought a lot of energy and is really playing his role and not trying to do too much,” said Stokes, who was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday, garnering his second such honor of the season.

Martin, meanwhile, is looking well off the beaten path for production. He plans to expand his rotation to include junior guard D’Montre Edwards, who played in just six league games, scoring in only one.

“Right now, we’ve got to find another guy off the bench that’s got to give us production,” Martin said. “I think that guy is D’Montre. We’ve got to get D’Montre in there. He’s got to be the next guy for us. He has the ability, skill and make-up.”

Unless it’s a blowout situation, Edwards’ minutes won’t cut into any of McRae’s. The junior guard has played 37 or more minutes in UT’s last six games, including 56 in the Vols’ four-overtime win at Texas A&M. Because of that game in College Station, McRae is averaging 41.2 minutes per game in the stretch.

In conference play, his 37.7 minutes per outing is tops in the SEC.

Asked if he can play 36 or 37 minutes a game in four straight days, McRae answered with an eye roll and an accompanying, “Yeah, no problem.”

“We have a lot of guys playing heavy minutes on our team, I think we’ll be fine with that,” he added. “Four games in four days is back to the AAU days.”

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

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Comments » 24

GreeneVol writes:

No wonder McRae can't gain any weight!

Was really impressed with Cheivous' play Saturday against his pop's alma mater...hoping Edwards can rise to the occassion.

NoIncomeTax writes:

Actually, 4 games within 72 hours, not 96. The extra 24 hours would be a bonus.

SouthPaVol writes:

in response to GreeneVol:

No wonder McRae can't gain any weight!

Was really impressed with Cheivous' play Saturday against his pop's alma mater...hoping Edwards can rise to the occassion.

Thought "Q" has a spurt that really kept the Vols in the game; that was just before McRae kicked it into gear. With 7 points and 5 rebounds, Q had half of a double-double. So what would that be, a single-single? half-half? Like Q's hustle, though.

Asking Edwards, a guy who has not contributed all year, to suddenly step up and be a threat is a little iffy. I like Edwards' play and hope he steps up. Not sure if that might be a diversion of some type for the other team's scout team to wonder about. I hope Edwards can have a "see the light" moment and magically start producing. Hope does spring eternal. Go Vols!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I guess Martin's seeing some things from Edwards in practices. Is he a senior? junior? Well I suppose it's good to consider his potential contribution anyhow. We just haven't seen much of him. We DO need someone to step up besides the starters. I've been a little disappointed in Yemi's appearances...or lack of. I'd love to see him step it up too.

Bottom line though is that if we don't get great effort from at least 3 of our starters it may be the end of the season come Thursday afternoon. A great team effort would be "icing".

dvhill100 writes:

Is it just me or does the title of the article seem obtuse?

BigOrangeFreak writes:

GBO!

41.2 minutes a game. McRae's a Gangster.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to dvhill100:

Is it just me or does the title of the article seem obtuse?

I'm sorry but I don't understand the question.

dwthevolsfan writes:

in response to NoIncomeTax:

Actually, 4 games within 72 hours, not 96. The extra 24 hours would be a bonus.

I hate hearing them talk about 4 games in 4 days. I've heard that many times before only to see an ugly 1 and done. We see that again and it's NIT here we come.

signalcorps writes:

in response to dvhill100:

Is it just me or does the title of the article seem obtuse?

If your saying it makes little sense I agree,,,,I think these are youths in their prime,,playing back to back (across the nation),,, no problem,,, the problem comes in their mental game,,Tn is a young team by that I mean they just found themselves as a team,,,they can win the SEC tournament if they run their offence play defence and not play street ball,,,,,I had to pinch myself to remember this is only coach Martins 2ND year,,his team has learn his system and playing good ball,,,I'm saying it again next year this team will ranked and surprise people...I have always been I will always be a VolForLlife

dwthevolsfan writes:

in response to BigOrangeFreak:

GBO!

41.2 minutes a game. McRae's a Gangster.

How crazy is it that he McRae hasn't gotten player of the week yet? Seems like he shoulda had about 3 in a row in my book. Doesn't speak well for his player of the year chances I guess.

signalcorps writes:

in response to dwthevolsfan:

I hate hearing them talk about 4 games in 4 days. I've heard that many times before only to see an ugly 1 and done. We see that again and it's NIT here we come.

I feel your pain just hold on ,,next year we will see a difference maybe this year,,,,Tn's men's sports is coming back and it's not going to take years and years to see a difference..............players and coaches only

signalcorps writes:

in response to dwthevolsfan:

How crazy is it that he McRae hasn't gotten player of the week yet? Seems like he shoulda had about 3 in a row in my book. Doesn't speak well for his player of the year chances I guess.

Agree he's came into a special player before our eyes,,,also all he has to do is keep listen to his coaches learned his position so well teams have to keep double teaming him that leaves open shots for his team mates,stay in the gym every free minute he has working on his shot(left hand right hand),,this team is coming along fast...................players and coaches only

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Trae Golden may have been better suited to be a football player.

Difficult to say. He does not shy from contact, almost plays basketball like a football player...which gets him in trouble.

What Trae is NOT is a true PG.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Some of these guys, Cheivous, Moore, Richardson....I think they can be good scorers, they need to cut loose a little bit.

One thing I still notice with UT: they are NOT a good dunking team. I don't mean the showboat stuff, I mean the "can't block this, can't miss this" dunk.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Final thought....
hate to say this, but unless UT goes deep in the SEC tourney, I think they get screwed by the selection committee.

The SEC is down...it's perceived as down, and Florida's weak play has hurt.

That will p#ss me off, but you know those early season losses CCM racks up year after year come back to bite.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Just not seeing where Edwards is gonna be much help..I realize he hasn't played a lot but frankly he scares me at times. He did put up 8 points against UK but everybody was hot in that game..Ive seen Edwards come into games and immediately launch 4 shots in 2 minutes with very mixed results and make some bad turnovers.Chievous has improved and he has matured in understanding his role. He is getting off some nice passes for open looks and also got in position to get himself open for some easy lay ins

TraitorLane writes:

in response to emailnodata:

Trae Golden may have been better suited to be a football player.

Difficult to say. He does not shy from contact, almost plays basketball like a football player...which gets him in trouble.

What Trae is NOT is a true PG.

Am I the only one that thinks Trae looks like he's in his 40's?

johnlg00 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

I guess Martin's seeing some things from Edwards in practices. Is he a senior? junior? Well I suppose it's good to consider his potential contribution anyhow. We just haven't seen much of him. We DO need someone to step up besides the starters. I've been a little disappointed in Yemi's appearances...or lack of. I'd love to see him step it up too.

Bottom line though is that if we don't get great effort from at least 3 of our starters it may be the end of the season come Thursday afternoon. A great team effort would be "icing".

The biggest supply of unused minutes lately would seem to be held by Makanjuola, Edwards, and Reese. And what is up with Reese these days? He has made only cameo appearances at most in the last month, or so it seems. Fatigue is an insidious thing in basketball. It takes the touch off of shots. It takes the zip off of passes. It decreases the desire to battle for rebounds and loose balls. It keeps players from holding strong positions in setting screens and rebounding blockouts. It causes players to reach and slap instead of moving their feet on defense. The end result of all this is excessive foul trouble, failure to control the boards, and turnovers that kill too many offensive possessions. It is POSSIBLE for well-conditioned athletes to play big minutes in as many as four games on consecutive days, but it would be a BIG help if the subs could come through enough that they don't HAVE to.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to dvhill100:

Is it just me or does the title of the article seem obtuse?

It's not just you. What I think was the point of the article is that the Vols will take it fairly easy in practice so they won't HAVE to try to save their legs in the tournament, but the headline didn't convey that very well. They may well need big minutes from the starters to win the thing, and they can't be AFRAID of losing their legs to the point that they fail to play long enough and hard enough to win EACH game as it comes up.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to emailnodata:

Trae Golden may have been better suited to be a football player.

Difficult to say. He does not shy from contact, almost plays basketball like a football player...which gets him in trouble.

What Trae is NOT is a true PG.

I have often thought about him the same way. However, one of my major gripes about him is that he doesn't use his relative bulk, big shoulders, and lower-body strength to his best advantage. He gets in trouble when he tries to fly through the air and jumps into people instead of dribbling up TO them and using his strength to wedge past them. Instead of trying to float passes over defenders, he should STEP past them and throw strong bounce passes when he is trying to feed the posts and cutters. What he IS at his best is a strong, confident guy who isn't afraid to mix it up, take big shots, and nail crucial late-game free-throws. I'll settle for that until a "true" PG comes along.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Just not seeing where Edwards is gonna be much help..I realize he hasn't played a lot but frankly he scares me at times. He did put up 8 points against UK but everybody was hot in that game..Ive seen Edwards come into games and immediately launch 4 shots in 2 minutes with very mixed results and make some bad turnovers.Chievous has improved and he has matured in understanding his role. He is getting off some nice passes for open looks and also got in position to get himself open for some easy lay ins

No question Edwards has had more trouble than I expected in finding his game rhythm. You are right that he tended to just fling them up for no good reason in his earlier appearances. I think he came in as a JUCO junior with great confidence in his shooting, but he seemed to feel he had to make something happen when he got in games. McRae had much the same problem in his cameos as a freshman, and in fact to some extent right up until his late-season tear. The best thing about Edwards' eight points in the UK game was that they all came on strong inside moves. He is at least as big and strong as Moore and Richardson. He just needs to settle down and let the game come to him a little bit. He also needs to defend and rebound the way his athleticism would suggest he can. They don't need him to be a star, they just need him to be solid and reliable. I've always thought Chievous had great potential; we have really been seeing that in the last couple of weeks.

brod writes:

saving legs is important, but so is finding rythm. we're not in missouri's bracket so considering our seed the draw is not too bad this year. it's just time to take care of business in this tourney for a change.

Bark_at_the_Moon writes:

We never do well in the SEC Tourney. I'm worried about Game #1.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Bark_at_the_Moon:

We never do well in the SEC Tourney. I'm worried about Game #1.

You wouldn't think that would be a MAJOR concern, but you are right; there is no crucial second game if they don't win the first one. As I noted on an earlier thread, most real tournament upsets of teams that have byes come from an underdog who has already experienced the tournament ambiance and shooting background putting it on a complacent favorite who is slow to gear up to tournament pace. Given the slow starts the Vols have had in a number of games this year, that could spell disaster just when things were starting to break their way. Mental toughness, guys! Come out in "take no prisoners" mode and squash the pretenders from the jump!

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