Mike Strange: Missed shots may mean a missed shot

Mike Strange
Tennessee guard Skylar McBee (13) shoots a 3-pointer in the first half against Alabama during the quarterfinal round of the 2013 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Friday, March 15, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee guard Skylar McBee (13) shoots a 3-pointer in the first half against Alabama during the quarterfinal round of the 2013 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Friday, March 15, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

NASHVILLE — At first Friday, everything went in.

Then, nothing went in.

Finally, Tennessee went home.

Alabama evicted the Vols from the SEC tournament, 58-48, at Bridgestone Arena, a day that will be remembered for shots clanging off and shots rimming out, and ultimately — for Tennessee and its fans — a gut shot of disappointment.

“It’s just one of those games,’’ said a forlorn Trae Golden, “where everything looks bad because shots weren’t falling.’’

That’s the universal cliché about basketball. When shots are falling, everything looks good. Every team looks like Sweet 16 material. James Naismith figured that out early on, standing beneath his peach basket.

And it’s a cliché because it’s true.

For the first seven minutes Friday, Tennessee looked terrific. On a momentous day on the NCAA tournament bubble, the Vols looked as if they had risen to the occasion.

Their first shot went in, then their second. When Golden hustled in a rebound basket on a fast break, UT was 7-of-10 from the field and ahead 15-10 on the scoreboard.

The fast start, however, had no legs. It was fool’s gold.

This would be a day the Vols shot themselves out of one tournament and very possibly another.

Alabama’s defense dictated the day. The Tide pressured full-court the entire game, then dropped back into a zone the entire game and dared Tennessee to make shots.

The Vols couldn’t, not with any regularity.

Bottom line: Tennessee shot 32.1 percent overall, 21.7 percent (5-of-23) from 3-point range.

With 12:10 to play, Jordan McRae rose up and stroked a 3-point shot to cut Alabama’s lead to 44-41.

Anything was still possible. A formidable orange presence in an announced crowd of 15,649 was ready to help carry the load and urge the Vols safely into the NCAA bracket that will be revealed Sunday.

But from there until the final horn, Tennessee managed only two field goals and both were transition baskets after Alabama turnovers.

To say it another way, the Vols got zero from their half-court offense in the final 12 minutes.

“I don’t think we’ve ever played that much zone the whole season,’’ said Bama guard Trevor Lacey.

“And our zone is very active. I don’t think we gave them but one or two good looks. We limited them to the shots we wanted them to take.’’

Aside from Josh Richardson, who played a splendid game, there was little help from UT’s other perimeter scorers.

McRae was 3-of-13 from the field, 3-of-8 beyond the arc. He fouled out with nine points.

“Being in foul trouble, in and out, I don’t think that helped,’’ he said. “But that’s my own fault.’’

In those heady early minutes, Golden had four assists and a basket. It would be his only one on a two-point, 1-for-7 day. He added only one more assist in 33 minutes.

“No shots were falling for us,’’ he said. “We weren’t necessarily taking the best shots and it just cost us.’’

Sklyar McBee was 1-of-6, Armani Moore 1-of-5.

“If we make shots,’’ said McBee, “we might get ‘em out of that zone and it might be a totally different ballgame.

“I’m a guy who’s got to knock down some shots. I take full responsibility. I didn’t do my part today.’’

Hardly anyone did. Because of shots missed today, there is no tomorrow, not for the Vols.

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

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Comments » 12

oldbasshead writes:

I don't understand why the magnitude of the situation doesn't bring the best out of these guys. Instead, it brings out their worst. They are either too high or not high enough and that is largely up to the coaches.

murrayvol writes:

When the "Committee" is looking for a reason to give you the boot, don't give them one.

ReeseHallRelic writes:

in response to oldbasshead:

I don't understand why the magnitude of the situation doesn't bring the best out of these guys. Instead, it brings out their worst. They are either too high or not high enough and that is largely up to the coaches.

It gets a little tiresome with this line of "thinking" amongst some alleged UT fans.

When things go well, the players played a great game.

When things go poorly, the coaches did a lousy job of preparing the team.

Thursday and Friday, the Vols took 56 shots from the field. On Thursday, they made 29. On Friday, they made only 18. So it was poor coaching that accounted for them making 11 fewer shots?

Really???

RockyToptoNeyland writes:

the committee I believe will pick two of these four teams on the bubble: tennessee, kentucky, ole miss, bama, which two is a toss up, we need luck to get in, a lot of luck.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

McRae did not take enough early shots.

McBee and Golden, too many.

Don't forget the various poor lob passes, missed layups, and so on.

Just a pisspoor game...I don't really blame CCM, he wasn't on the floor playing. They had looks and openings.

chattbud writes:

Bring back Pearl! I just cannot watch any more Cunzo ball. The team plays with the same energy he coaches with. A high scoring game is 50! Our UT defense is bad! We do not stop dribble penetration & Martin has but one offensive solution to the other team’s press’s or zones defenses. Pass it around the three line & jack up a three as the buzzer sounds. UT shot 25 three balls yesterday, to Bama’s 8. Now many times have I heard him say, “we had good looks just didn’t knock them down!” We never should have let John (Bama supporter) Adams KNS articles convince us fire Fulmer or Bruce Pearl. Adam’s MUST GO!!! & Martin must take responsiblity for his game plan or lack there of. 6-straight NCAA's for Pearl 0 & 2 for Martin. & it's the style of his play that puts you to sleep.

laraccoon writes:

in response to chattbud:

Bring back Pearl! I just cannot watch any more Cunzo ball. The team plays with the same energy he coaches with. A high scoring game is 50! Our UT defense is bad! We do not stop dribble penetration & Martin has but one offensive solution to the other team’s press’s or zones defenses. Pass it around the three line & jack up a three as the buzzer sounds. UT shot 25 three balls yesterday, to Bama’s 8. Now many times have I heard him say, “we had good looks just didn’t knock them down!” We never should have let John (Bama supporter) Adams KNS articles convince us fire Fulmer or Bruce Pearl. Adam’s MUST GO!!! & Martin must take responsiblity for his game plan or lack there of. 6-straight NCAA's for Pearl 0 & 2 for Martin. & it's the style of his play that puts you to sleep.

if U T had kept Pearl their basketball program would be suffering NCAA sanctions and none of this would matter anyway . Do you think that would have been better ? By the way if you think Fulmer got fired because of John Adams articles your dumber than you appear .now go sleep it off!

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

in response to laraccoon:

if U T had kept Pearl their basketball program would be suffering NCAA sanctions and none of this would matter anyway . Do you think that would have been better ? By the way if you think Fulmer got fired because of John Adams articles your dumber than you appear .now go sleep it off!

I'd take Pearl back in a heartbeat...
but his boss would be Cuonzo Martin.

Bruce cannot handle success. He needs a strong character in his life to keep him from cheating, to set the rules.

That said, Bruce is a great basketball coach and recruiter.

volthrunthru#658770 writes:

Trying to take responsibility for the loss, players are stepping up---manning up---doing what Martin and staff should be doing,
Martin and coaching staff are the reason this team lost, NOT poor outside shooting.

Martin's stubborn resistance to using zone defense---and his coaches substituting streak-players for a lineup that had been winning, and continuing inability to adjust in-game, are reasons this team lost.

Stevie Wonder could have seen zone “D” would have stopped give & go drives from Center to guards, down the lanes. Most patients in your local therapy group at least would have considered doing something other than continue going inside to Stokes---who had two or three players on him, one of them 4+” taller, so passing high to Stokes was a bad decision.

‘Zo does is not short for Zone! Mid-range jumpers, and switches from center by guards to drive down the lanes were what zapped UT. Zone “D” would have stopped either or both.
Also, the team was lethargic again. Adams says they lost the sense of being desperate. Martin told the world, after Mississippi State, Thursday, they were in the NCAA. Players relaxed. Yet they even looked tired. (Had they been out late? Were family members in their heads, helping Martin coach, since they were closer than normal physically, in Nashville, at the tournament?)

The mark of a team not clearly led is that it slows down before reaching the goal, and frequently does not reach that goal at all . Martin's rhetoric set the bar too low---get to the NCAA---a LOT different than saying "Sweet 16," or "Elite 8."

"It's okay, because we are IN!" (relaxxxxxxxx.) Players obviously head what their coaches coached: keep passing to Stokes inside.

How come nobody fm UT shot behind screens, mid-range? How come nobody played even a little bit of zone against Bama’s penetration & mid-range.

Martin is by all accounts a decent man. But Bruce Pearl would have won that game. Pearl probably has learned the lesson that lying to protect a kid is not worthwhile---that you have to cut a kid loose, who shows up at your house in violation of NCAA rules.

The kid (Craft's) father reportedly turned Pearl in for asking him to lie to the NCAA. Fingering Pearl did three things: guaranteed young Craft was immune; zapped UT; ensured Craft for Ohio State, instead of a now dirty-appearing (to the NCAA) Tennessee.

I wish Martin and his coaches---all better players in college---were as good as coaches. Martin needs to take a leaf from Pear’s book, and get help at in-game coaching for himself, staff and team. Same for scheming. They are woeful at both; and are costing UT victories.

It is NOT the fault of a team shots on an off-night kept them 4 points away.

If UT does not dance, it is Martin and the coaches' fault. That simple.

trl_x writes:

in response to volthrunthru#658770:

Trying to take responsibility for the loss, players are stepping up---manning up---doing what Martin and staff should be doing,
Martin and coaching staff are the reason this team lost, NOT poor outside shooting.

Martin's stubborn resistance to using zone defense---and his coaches substituting streak-players for a lineup that had been winning, and continuing inability to adjust in-game, are reasons this team lost.

Stevie Wonder could have seen zone “D” would have stopped give & go drives from Center to guards, down the lanes. Most patients in your local therapy group at least would have considered doing something other than continue going inside to Stokes---who had two or three players on him, one of them 4+” taller, so passing high to Stokes was a bad decision.

‘Zo does is not short for Zone! Mid-range jumpers, and switches from center by guards to drive down the lanes were what zapped UT. Zone “D” would have stopped either or both.
Also, the team was lethargic again. Adams says they lost the sense of being desperate. Martin told the world, after Mississippi State, Thursday, they were in the NCAA. Players relaxed. Yet they even looked tired. (Had they been out late? Were family members in their heads, helping Martin coach, since they were closer than normal physically, in Nashville, at the tournament?)

The mark of a team not clearly led is that it slows down before reaching the goal, and frequently does not reach that goal at all . Martin's rhetoric set the bar too low---get to the NCAA---a LOT different than saying "Sweet 16," or "Elite 8."

"It's okay, because we are IN!" (relaxxxxxxxx.) Players obviously head what their coaches coached: keep passing to Stokes inside.

How come nobody fm UT shot behind screens, mid-range? How come nobody played even a little bit of zone against Bama’s penetration & mid-range.

Martin is by all accounts a decent man. But Bruce Pearl would have won that game. Pearl probably has learned the lesson that lying to protect a kid is not worthwhile---that you have to cut a kid loose, who shows up at your house in violation of NCAA rules.

The kid (Craft's) father reportedly turned Pearl in for asking him to lie to the NCAA. Fingering Pearl did three things: guaranteed young Craft was immune; zapped UT; ensured Craft for Ohio State, instead of a now dirty-appearing (to the NCAA) Tennessee.

I wish Martin and his coaches---all better players in college---were as good as coaches. Martin needs to take a leaf from Pear’s book, and get help at in-game coaching for himself, staff and team. Same for scheming. They are woeful at both; and are costing UT victories.

It is NOT the fault of a team shots on an off-night kept them 4 points away.

If UT does not dance, it is Martin and the coaches' fault. That simple.

I didn't read the entire novel but I agree Martin not switching defenses to fit the occasion is annoying. A UT zone might have been the difference in the game. Bama's zone definitely was.

But Pearl had the same zone issue. Both have pure man to man defensive philosophies.

jamgod writes:

The problem is Trae Golden...when he is on, the team is on...when he is not and nobody else is they are pretty terrible. But the reason I say golden is because he is either great or terrible...no in between...no 8-9 point game on an off night and that kills the team. He is not consistent enough for the Vols. I really don't like the guy very much as a player because when he s*xs...he really s*xs. I am hoping next yr we get a better point grd because Trae Golden is not going to take this team anywhere...he def will not be playing in the NBA and probably will have a hard time playing overseas. The guy absolutely kills this team period!!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to jamgod:

The problem is Trae Golden...when he is on, the team is on...when he is not and nobody else is they are pretty terrible. But the reason I say golden is because he is either great or terrible...no in between...no 8-9 point game on an off night and that kills the team. He is not consistent enough for the Vols. I really don't like the guy very much as a player because when he s*xs...he really s*xs. I am hoping next yr we get a better point grd because Trae Golden is not going to take this team anywhere...he def will not be playing in the NBA and probably will have a hard time playing overseas. The guy absolutely kills this team period!!

A couple of these posts were perhaps overly negative in tone, IMHO, but some good points were made. Of course, any scheme looks better when the shots go in. The Vols had enough good looks, they just didn't convert on them.

However, there is something to be said for the idea that a team has to be prepared to play the game they are IN rather than to have SUCH a rigid notion of how they are going to play NO MATTER WHAT. All season, UT has shown no consistent ability to defend the high ball-screen action. OK, if you can't do that out of the man-to-man, then some kind of zone might do it. When the other team is able to do whatever they want when there are two offensive players and two defensive players in the foul circle area, bring another defender; crowd up that area so the ball-handlers don't have their choice of where to go and their vision to the roll man is obscured. Sure, you might leave somebody open somewhere, but you have to stop what they are killing you with NOW and THEN worry about how to stop whatever ELSE they try to do. It isn't necessary to use a zone as such, but you have to have a way to deny the opponents the parts of the floor they WANT to use. Assign one guy to patrol the foul circle area to keep the offense from creating the situation THEY want in there, decide which opponent you can basically ignore and be prepared to double on the ball-handler in that area. Everybody else can play man-to-man. There may be other ways to achieve the same objective, but these are some things to try.

On offense, the team's MAIN priority going forward is to have a real plan to attack zones. It has to start with getting the ball into the foul circle area by whatever means necessary. It can be a guard dribbling into it, it can be a wing player cutting into it, or it can be a post man stationed there and making himself available for passes. Once the ball is there, however it gets there, the defense will collapse and outside shooters should be open all around the perimeter. If the defenders fan out to cover the shooters, there will be more gaps for the guy at the foul line to shoot, drive, or pass to the low post. Louisville put on a clinic last night on how to beat perhaps the toughest zone defense in all of college basketball. The Vol staff would do well to watch that tape over and over.

As for Golden, I would simply refer back to a comment I made about the lack of oncourt leadership. I am not as worried about Golden's lack of traditional PG skills as I am about the fact that he just seems to have trouble pushing HIMSELF through rough patches and thus can't push TEAMMATES through them. There are lots of playing styles and body types that can work for a "lead guard", but the essential thing is the ability to keep ONESELF on an even keel to set the example for the rest of the team.

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