Martin's Vols have stuck together

Martin's Vols have stuck together

March 8th, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, right, and forward Jarnell Stokes will have a big chance to improve their NCAA tournament resume when the Vols host Missouri today in Knoxville.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.


Here are the SEC tournament seeding scenarios for Tennessee based on the result of its home game with Missouri (4 p.m.), the Arkansas-Alabama game in Tuscaloosa (4 p.m.) and Georgia's visit to LSU (5 p.m.). A Vols win would wrap up a double-bye, meaning they wouldn't play their first game in Atlanta until Friday and would be a win away from the semifinals. If Tennessee loses today, it will open tournament play Thursday.

• Tennessee is the No. 3 seed with a win and a Georgia loss, regardless of whether Arkansas wins or loses. The Vols win any tiebreakers with the Bulldogs and Razorbacks.

• Tennessee is the No. 4 seed with a win and a Georgia win, regardless of whether Arkansas wins or loses.

• Tennessee is the No. 5 seed with a loss and an Arkansas loss, regardless of whether LSU wins or loses. The Vols would be second in either a four-way tie with the Tigers included or a three-way tie with Missouri and Arkansas.

• Tennessee is the No. 6 seed with a loss, an Arkansas win and an LSU loss. Missouri would own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Vols.

• Tennessee is the No. 7 seed with a loss and wins by Arkansas and LSU. The Vols would be at the bottom of a three-way tie for fifth involving Missouri and LSU.

KNOXVILLE - Josh Richardson was being interviewed after Tennessee's 82-54 basketball win at Auburn on Wednesday when teammate Jeronne Maymon stopped on his way from the Volunteers' locker room to the team bus and played reporter for a moment.

"How good is Jeronne Maymon?" Tennessee's senior forward playfully asked once Richardson finished his answer to a reporter's question.

"He's terrible," Richardson replied.

"Oh, wow," said Maymon, taken aback by the answer.

Richardson laughed heartily before declaring Maymon as "the best."

Tennessee's players certainly were in a relaxed mood after a 28-point victory and their third consecutive wire-to-wire win. More importantly, the Vols seemed to stick together to weather some disappointing stretches and never appeared affected by growing negativity around the trajectory of the season and third-year coach Cuonzo Martin.

Heading into this afternoon's regular-season finale at home against Missouri, Tennessee still has managed to play through disappointment and frustration and put itself in a spot where it has much left for which to play.

"Our locker room never changed," Richardson said. "We're all good friends off the court. We all hang out and stuff like that. Nothing's changed.

"Everybody's had tough times," the junior guard added, "but once you've got a whole locker room picking you up, it just makes it a lot easier."

Of course, Tennessee certainly hoped it wouldn't be fighting for its NCAA tournament lives during the season's final weeks, but since a second loss to Texas A&M two weeks ago, the Vols have looked like a different team, albeit against three opponents in the bottom half of the SEC.

That second loss to the Aggies took away any remaining room for error for the Vols, but they've responded well and not looked like a team burdened by the pressure of their situation.

"The leaders on the team, I think we're all doing a great job of not carrying it around," senior and leading scorer Jordan McRae said before practice Friday afternoon. "We're not walking around saying these are must-win games. We're just telling everybody to play as hard we can, and if we play as hard as we can and play our game, we feel like we can beat anybody."

That's probably true of this Tennessee team when it's at its best -- the 35-point waxing of eventual ACC champion Virginia is Exhibit A -- but that level largely has been missing this season.

Early-season losses to Xavier and UTEP were frustrating, and the Vols held a players-only meeting after they followed up a valiant effort in a loss at Wichita State by coming out flat in a loss to North Carolina State. There was the 26-point loss at top-ranked Florida, and the Texas A&M sweep and a loss at Vanderbilt also were low points.

Through all of that, though, here Tennessee is, still trying to play its way into a third- or fourth-place finish in the conference and an NCAA tournament berth.

"I've been saying it since the summer: This is one of the closest teams I've been on," McRae said. "That's just through everything. Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors, and I think we've just a done great job of being together as a team."

Tennessee appears to be playing its best basketball of the season at the right time, and though it may be too little too late, the answer to that won't be known until the NCAA tournament field is unveiled eight days from now.

All the Vols can control is to keep winning games.

"For me as a coach, you never have a mentality where you give up," Martin said. "You battle till the end, whatever happens. That's the thing I try to make our guys understand. Regardless of what happened, you still have a chance to control the outcome, so let's do everything in our power to make it work."

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