In their overtime loss at Georgia on January 18, Tennessee’s backcourt players shot a combined 11-for-35 from the floor and just two-of-13 from beyond the arc. Point guard Trae Golden and senior Cameron Tatum accounted for eight of the Vols' 20 turnovers.
Three days later, the Vols earned a stunning win over defending champion UConn, but Golden (who leads the team in scoring average) finished with just two points from the foul line. It matched his point total in the near-upset over top-ranked Kentucky.
Most recently against Vanderbilt, Tennessee’s guards shot an abysmal five-for-28, one-of-seven from the perimeter, and accounted for 13 of the Vols’ 25 turnovers.
With stellar play in the post from Jeronne Maymon and freshmen Jarnell Stokes and Yemi Makanjuola (who combined for 16 rebounds in the loss at Vanderbilt), coach Cuonzo Martin has his more glaring weakness staring him in the face.
Little was expected of the Vols this season, and Martin made it clear from the beginning he was more interested in building a foundation than immediate success. But Martin has grown frustrated with his team’s lack of consistency and toughness, and he implied drastic changes may be necessary for the program to move forward.
“I’m not a guy who believes in getting rid of players and all that, but you have to be honest with ‘em, to let ‘em know where you stand as a coach and exactly what you’re looking for.”
He added, “I tell guys now, ‘All I can do is warn you. I say this in all sincerity. Now we’ve got guys knocking on the door. They want to be a part of Tennessee basketball.’
It’s real simple. You play at a high level all the time because guys are going to be a part of this program. They know where we’re headed.”
Martin’s strong words don’t come flippantly. He’s made multiple lineup changes and exhausted his bench to find players with the necessary confidence and intensity he believes will make them a contender. He’s found it in Maymon, Stokes and Makanjuola.
His backcourt players, however, have shown this type of play only in flashes, and rarely on the road. To prove themselves, Tennessee’s guards will need to step up somewhere other than Thompson-Boling Arena.
With trips to Lexington, Gainsville and Tusculoosa looming, Martin’s warning shot could not have come at a better time.