Tennessee Vols add confidence, but coach Cuonzo Martin 'steady'

Tennessee Vols add confidence, but coach Cuonzo Martin 'steady'

February 14th, 2012 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- The confidence is growing. Now there even is talk of the NCAA tournament.

That's what the season's first road win -- against a team ranked in the top 10, no less -- will do.

Don't expect first-year Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin to begin celebrating his Volunteers' recent successes, however.

"I think for me as a coach, our approach is the same," he said Monday. "I mean, I don't walk into practice with a tuxedo on or anything like that. Our approach is still the same: the hard hat and let's get to work. It's a mindset you come with every day."

The comfortable upset of Florida on Saturday was the Vols' third consecutive win and perhaps the season's most complete performance. UT shot 48 percent from the field, grabbed six more rebounds than the Gators and held Florida's perimeter shooting largely in check.

Trae Golden, Jeronne Maymon, Kenny Hall and Jordan McRae all played well again.

The Vols notched some big wins in January, but there's greater value in getting over the hump for their first road win in such impressive fashion. Still, Martin won't allow his team to become too enamored with itself, similar to how he didn't get too down on the Vols when they lost four straight games.

The Vols have noticed Martin's even-keeled, businesslike approach.

"You've got to have a steady mindset all the time," said junior guard Skylar McBee. "It's good to watch. Everybody likes consistency, and Coach Martin is very consistent in his attitude and very consistent in what he believes. You seem more to trust him because you know he's always going to be [there] with that steady attitude."

The Vols are just 13-12 with some damaging losses, but Martin didn't shy away from discussing their NCAA tournament chances Monday. UT jumped 32 spots in the NCAA's official RPI rankings, which are used in the tournament's selection process.

The Vols' final six regular-season games are winnable, and Martin believes winning out would warrant a spot in the field of 65.

"I don't think there's any question," he said.

The Vols are 110th in the RPI with the next three games against Arkansas (70), Alabama (32) and Ole Miss (50). All four teams are tied for fifth in the SEC at 5-5. Martin said he pays more attention to the league standings than the RPI number.

"It's not a measuring stick for us," he said. "If we continue doing the things necessary, then we'll be successful. Wherever we fall, we fall. As a coach, as long as you're making progress, things eventually fall in place."

Martin's Missouri State team finished in the top 50 of last season's RPI rankings and won the Missouri Valley Conference's outright regular-season title, but that wasn't enough to get the Bears an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

"With the NCAA, you don't have a true gauge of here's the criteria of getting into the NCAA tournament, because one year it can change on you," he said. "There's no set criteria to say this, this, this -- you just have to do your job and put in work. When Selection Sunday comes, if you're a part of it, then you're a part of it."

Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes warms up before an NCAA college basketball game

Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes warms up before an NCAA...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Stokes watch

Martin said Jarnell Stokes wasn't healthy enough to play Saturday, but the midseason-arrival freshman still played 11 minutes just days after missing a game with a sprained right wrist.

"I lobbied to the trainer," Stokes said with a smile Monday. "During the game, the adrenaline takes over as far as the pain. I felt it afterward, but during the game I didn't feel anything.

"It's getting better day by day. It shouldn't be a problem anymore."

Stokes scored four points and added two rebounds and two steals with his wrist heavily taped.

"He's fine," Martin said. "If it's not improving, he'll make it improve because he wants to be on the floor. He's ready to go. He's hungry."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.