Cuonzo Martin and the Tennessee Vols drew high praise around the SEC for their unexpected success in 2012, but the team’s potential is now drawing national attention.
In his initial prediction for the preseason top 25, ESPN’s Andy Katz ranked the Vols 24th, ahead of tournament teams Marquette, Missouri, UNLV, New Mexico, and Florida State.
"Cuonzo Martin had the Volunteers on the cusp of an NCAA tournament berth in the final two weeks of the regular season. Now, Martin gets Jarnell Stokes for a full season, along with the bulk of his teammates. The Vols will continue to play as hard as any team in the country, as Martin has established an identity of defense and toughness that will serve Tennessee well in the SEC."
Martin showed he could hang with the best in the coaching world when he landed Stokes and swept eventual Elite Eight team Florida in the regular season. With his ability to get his players to buy into his calling card of toughness and hard play, he drew increased attention nationally.
Most notably, Martin was linked to the Illinois job after the university fired coach Bruce Weber. Martin immediately dismissed the report, but the ripple effect of such a rumor speaks volumes on his impact on the college basketball scene in just one season.
Martin still has much to prove in a conference where he’ll have to battle with John Calipari’s NBA junior league team twice annually (at least), but recognition from writers like Andy Katz is a major accomplishment considering the situation Martin inherited.