Many people thought when Bruce Pearl was fired at Tennessee that "things on Rocky Top had hit rock bottom." The prediction for the 2011-12 season was that the Vols could end up in the SEC cellar.
Even though John Calipari was legitimately named as the 2012 SEC Coach of the Year, Cuonzo Martin needs to be recognized for the fantastic job that he is doing at Tennessee.
When he was hired, Martin was not a "backup" option for the Vols. They had not gone through a laundry list of "big name" coaching candidates only to be shot down. Tennessee went after Martin, knowing that he was one of the best young (40 years old) coaches in college hoops.
First year coaches don't always fare so well:
- Coach K was 17-13 in his first year at Duke.
- Rick Pitino went 14-14 in his first year at Kentucky and 19-13 in his first go-round at Louisville.
- Billy Donovan was 13-17 during his first season at Florida.
In his first year in Knoxville, Martin and the Volunteers have put together a very respectable 18-13 record.
The Vols finished 10-6 in conference play, surprisingly in a three-way tie with Florida and Vanderbilt.
Since the beginning of February, Tennessee has won eight of their nine games, including beating both the Gators and Commodores—the teams with which they are tied.
The core of this year's team should all be back next season. The only seniors on this year's squad are Cameron Tatum (8.1 ppg; 4.0 rpg; 2.5 apg) and Renaldo Woolridge (4.4 ppg; 3.1 rpg).
Because of the Vols strong February showing, they received a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament in New Orleans.
They will face the winner of the Mississippi vs. Auburn matchup, teams that Tennessee has already beaten this season.
Hopefully, Martin and the Vols can stack up a few wins in the conference tourney to improve their Selection Sunday resume.
It will be good to see Tennessee punch their ticket to the Dance.