Tennessee Volunteers Basketball: Cuonzo Martin Can Do What Bruce Pearl Didn't

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVDecember 6, 2011

Cuonzo Martin brings a tough defensive-minded focus to Rocky Top
Cuonzo Martin brings a tough defensive-minded focus to Rocky Top

Former Vols coach Bruce Pearl brought Tennessee men's basketball back to the forefront of the sport, posting a 145-61 record during his tenure and giving the Vols their first No. 1 ranking. Lies, cover-ups and repeated infractions ultimately led to Pearl's downfall, and his departure put the team on the brink of returning to mediocrity.

In comes Cuonzo Martin.

The Vols have undergone a major shift from Bruce Pearl's system of full-court press and high-flying offenses. Since Martin's arrival, hard grind-it-out defense has been the core while big scoring has taken a backseat.

Pearl's Vols lived and died with their full-court press and offensive reliance. In the 2010-11 season, the Vols shot second-to-last in the SEC from three-point range at 30 percent, and ninth in field-goals at 43 percent. .

So far, taking pressure off the offense has done wonders for Tennessee's shooting. Martin's 2011-12 squad is shooting first in the SEC from behind the arc at 42 percent , second behind the charity stripe at 75 percent and fourth from the field at 47 percent. .

The Vols' 3-4 record does little to show Martin's command over the program, but much promise was shown in those losses. In Maui, the Vols led No. 6 Duke for much of the game before the Blue Devils slipped away in the second half. The Vols lost a double overtime thriller to No. 8 Memphis in their second game in Maui.

The Vols recently lost a hard fought game against No. 17 Pittsburgh at home 61-56, after dropping a trap game at mid-major sleeper Oakland, a team the Vols lost to at home last year. 

In many games during Pearl's tenure, the team's attitude and effort level seemed dangerously swayed by the scoreboard. Martin's team has already showed the ability to battle back from adversity. After being down 40-24 with eight minutes to go in the first half against Memphis, the Vols, behind scrappy defense, were able to pull stops together and send the game into multiple overtimes. 

Martin took over a team that lost five of its six highest scorers, including Scotty Hopson, Melvin Goins and NBA rookie Tobias Harris. The Vols have replaced these stars beautifully with sophomores Trae Golden and Jordan McRae. "The Monster" Jerrone Maymon had 32 points and 20 rebounds against Memphis in what could be one of the most dominating performances by any player in the country this year.

Martin has a team that believes in him and his system, now all he needs to do is align the stars. In time, he will bring a Final Four to Rocky Top.