On December 13th, the Tennessee Volunteers got a Christmas miracle.
After becoming the butt of jokes across college basketball (“Act your age, not your Tennessee basketball score.”), the Vols put up an astronomical 69 points on then 23rd ranked Wichita State.
And I mean “astronomical” as literally as I can possibly mean it. Tennessee’s offense was lurking around the “historically low” level in every possible statistic, but against the Shockers, the scoring turnaround was truly miraculous. The team shot just under 50 percent from the field and (gasp!) 80 percent from the foul line.
It felt like Cuonzo Martin was George Bailey giving out angel wings.
So with Christmas only a week away, here are three more miracles that will completely turn the Vols from punch line to contender.
Jeronne Maymon’s absence has been hanging over the team all season. It’s left a gaping hole in the front court, leaving Jarnell Stokes fighting two and three defenders every possession.
Rumors swirled after Maymon’s father, Tim Maymon, told GoVolsXtra that his son was “doing well” and was using his time to rehab and get back in to playing condition. However, Maymon’s practice time has been limited at best, creating more speculation around his status.
At this point, it seems only a miracle will get Maymon’s knee to return to 100 percent.
In the Vols’ first seven games, Trae Golden’s scoring average hovered around 12 PPG and Jordan McRae was an even worse 8.8. But against Wichita State, both players exploded for 42 of the team’s 69 points, including 21 or 24 from the foul line (McRae was a perfect 8-8).
Tennessee’s keys to winning without Maymon has always centered on its guards stepping up big with high scoring numbers and consistency from the stripe. This hasn’t happened in their three losses. It did against the Shockers. Elementary.
I know Cuonzo Martin would rather win 50-48 than 70-68, but this last little miracle is a personal request.
The Vols defense has been at best stifling and at worse just damn tough. But it seems the team’s strong defensive stops are so often negated by a slow, methodical response on the offensive end.
I know throwing the ball down the floor is risk, especially for a team averaging 13 turnovers a game. But Tennessee wastes considerable scoring opportunities in transition by opting instead to hand the ball off to Golden and play half court.
Every. Single. Possession.
According to Jordan McRae, this need for speed isn't lost on the players.
"When our bigs get the rebound they're so concentrated on getting the ball to Trae, instead of just getting it to the closest guard and going out running," he told Brendan Quinn of GoVolsXtra. "We're getting all that adjusted."
Unless Tennessee can find a more dominant post presence, Martin will continue relying on his backcourt for points. An occasional fast break might be the catalyst his struggling guards need, as well as making it a little more exciting for the fans.