In his third season as the University of Tennessee's head basketball coach, Cuonzo Martin has, on paper, the best team he has ever had.
The lineup features SEC Player of the Year contenders Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes. Jeronne Maymon returns for a long-awaited senior year after an injury-plagued Vol career. Highly touted freshmen Robert Hubbs and Darius Thompson, along with transfer Antonio Barton, look to give the team an added boost.
However, the season to this point is not living up to the expectations that had been set for it. With an overall record of 6-4, the team has shown glimpses of glory but has also suffered some (frankly) awful losses.
The same team that has beaten Xavier by 15 points and Wake Forest by 19 has also lost to that same Musketeer team, as well as UTEP. But to say that all hope is lost for a successful season would be a drastic exaggeration.
Certainly, the Vols have a long way to go and a rough hill to climb, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The biggest flaw in the system as of now is the same problem that comes up year after year. The team simply is nowhere near as good at the beginning of the season as it is (or will be) at the end. The reason for this is simple: coaching.
The players on this team are just too talented not to be more successful than this. This, however, is a team that Bruce Pearl would thrive with. Cuonzo Martin's coaching style and philosophy does not suit the squad.
This is a team of athletes that can outrun just about anybody they face. Tennessee was extremely successful with this during Pearl era, and Martin cannot adjust to his personnel. It happens each and every year.
The season begins with a team forced to play a half-court style of basketball that it is not built to play. They end up losing to teams like UTEP, College of Charleston and an impossible-to-watch 37-36 loss to Georgetown in November 2012.
Then Martin realizes the need to run and score. Lat season, the team turned around and defeated Missouri, No. 8 Florida and, in a blowout, No. 25 Kentucky.
Simply put, once Cuonzo Martin changes his philosophy to fit the team he has in place, Tennessee will be successful and contend in conference play. If he doesn't do so, not only will the team end up the NIT for a third consecutive season, but Martin also may be looking for a job.