The Tennessee Volunteers are once again off to a slow start to the season.
The Vols have staggered to a 1-1 record with a loss at Xavier and a unflattering victory over USC Upstate. This is Cuonzo Martin‘s third season as the Tennessee coach; he has his player’s and his system, so there is no room for excuses. Last season, the Vols were without Jerrone Maymon, Jarnell Stokes got off to a rocky start, and Trae Golden was dealing with nagging injuries, but there are no such issues this season. The issues for Tennessee this year is their defense.
The Volunteers can’t defend without fouling, and on a rare occasion when they don’t foul, they are not stopping the opposition. Tennessee is allowing their first two opponents to shoot 46.8 percent from the field, and have given up 40 free throw through two games. When Martin arrived in Knoxville, he brought a tough, hard-nosed, no nonsense coaching style with him. The Vols’ motto for the season is even “Tougher Breed,” but Tennessee hasn’t played with very much toughness this season.
In their win over USC Upstate on Saturday, the Vols were down 25-38 with 4:41 left in the first half, before realizing they are Tennessee and their opponent was a school with upstate in it’s name. Up to that point in the game, the Vols were being out rebounded 13-10; that is something that should never happen with Stokes and Maymon on the floor. Both Stokes and Maymon are 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, so there is no situation where they should be out rebounded by a team like USC Upstate. Tennessee eventually turned up the pressure and put forth enough effort to hold of the Spartans, but the kind of effort they put forth in the first half will get them down by 20 plus points in the SEC.
The pressure that Martin is under has been documented, especially with Bruce Pearl‘s three-year show-cause penalty ending this season. The Volunteers cannot miss the NCAA Tournament again this year. Not only can they not miss the NCAA Tournament, they should not miss it either. There is too much talent, skill and size on this team to falter. The Volunteers have four more doormat teams to play before their matchup against No. 16 Wichita State in December. Tennessee better put in the work and become the “Tougher Breed” that they claim to be if they don’t want to be replacing their coach in the offseason.
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