After two games in which Tennessee averaged 37 points, .306 shooting from the floor and .171 from 3-point range, coach Cuonzo Martin had to take the Vols back to the basics.
“When we came back from the Virginia game, we saw that we had to do a better job of cutting and screening,” Martin said. “We have to get better at the screening, cutting and moving. We also have to do a better job of offensive rebounding.”
The byproduct of cutting and screening, Martin hopes, will be a better quality of shots. And on nights when those shots aren’t falling, offensive rebounding can be a salvation. Without a doubt, the Vols are missing the services of senior forward Jeronne Maymon, who’s a great rebounder and even a facilitator of offense with his passing ability, but no one knows when, or even if, Maymon’s ailing knee will allow his return to the court.
Until then, Tennessee has to get better without the big man.
“You have to get good looks,” Martin said. “You can shoot a lot of balls, but if they aren’t falling, you’re still in the same situation. We don’t have a situation where we’re saying that we have to make five or six passes (before taking a shot). If you make one or two passes and now you’ve got a good shot, you’ve got to shoot the ball. We just talk about getting the best looks.”
Several Tennessee players reported during a media session on Tuesday that they had been working overtime on the problem. With more than a week between games and no class, they had an opportunity to shoot, and shoot some more.
“Everybody’s coming in and trying to get up 500 shots a day,” junior guard Jordan McRae said. “… Just trying to get in our shots, so in the game it’ll be a little easier.”
“We’ve just got to stay in the gym,” sophomore guard Josh Richardson said. “If we can get shots to fall in practice, they’ll fall in the game.
Junior point guard Trae Golden thinks the solution may be even easier than anyone realizes. Sometimes, the best way to beat a zone such as the one Georgetown sprung on the Vols is to get down the floor before it has a chance to set up.
“We’ve got to get out in transition and run more, just stop thinking so much, just play aggressive on the offensive end,” Golden said. “(Making) 3s would definitely help, but right now I think if we quit thinking too much and just play our game, it’ll all click for us.
“I’m not frustrated. I know we’ve just got to stay the course. Sooner of later, everything will work out.”
The Vols will get a chance to see how their intense practice has paid off on Thursday night, when they play host to No. 23 Wichita State (9-0), one of just 13 unbeaten teams left in Division I this season. Shockers coach Gregg Marshall is expecting a rugged game.
“They’ve very good defensively,” Marshall said of the Vols. “I think they might be the best defensive team we’ve played to this point, and possibly all year. To hold people to 39 percent (from the field) and 29 percent from 3 … that’s pretty good. They outrebound people by five. They’re winning with defense and rebounding.”
Marshall knows that if his team wants to continue its unbeaten streak, it will have to defend, too. He’s particularly concerned about Tennessee sophomore post Jarnell Stokes, who has been bottled up the last couple of games but is due for a breakout. Carl Hall, a 6-8, 238-pound senior, will draw the defensive assignment.
“No. 1, Carl’s got to stay out of foul trouble,” Marshall said. “He’s got to guard him before he catches it. (Stokes) sits in (the post) as hard and physically as anyone. He spins and he’s a whirling dervish once he gets it down there. He’s very powerful. You’ve got to do your work before he catches the ball.”
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