Were you nervous watching our last two games? Did you expect us to blow Belmont and Missouri State out?
Our staff didn’t. We talked to the players over and over again about how talented, disciplined and hard working these two teams were. To our players’ credit, they listened and then went out and executed our game plans. Sure, everything wasn’t perfect, but our coaches are happy with the way we played. Each game somebody different stepped up. We are not nearly satisfied as this will be a work in progress all season long but early signs are illustrating that guys are buying into their roles. As I have said before, I believe that we are one of the deepest and most talented teams in the country. We may not have the highest touted starting unit but I wouldn’t take any other roster from top to bottom. Guys who may not be playing the roles they had envisioned have stayed ready. Kenny hall (14 minutes, 5-6 FTs vs. Belmont), Jordan McRae (showed great improvement defensively), Trae and Skylar McBee (were great floor leaders with Melvin out). We are still making a lot of mistakes on the floor but it’s not because a lack of effort. Our guys are committed to getting better!
We were all hungry to get two wins and have the opportunity to play in one of the greatest basketball cities in the world, New York, at the basketball mecca Madison Square Garden. It will be a great honor for our coaching staff to Coach on the same bench as so many legendary coaches. However, nobody was happier than Tobias and Brian after last night’s win. Being from New York, having the opportunity to play in front of their family and friends and spend the Thanksgiving holiday with them is exciting. Matter of fact, Brian was so happy after last night’s game he kept yelling “Yaaaaa, I’m gonna get some of Ma’s Mac and Cheese!”
Although we are excited for this opportunity our Coaches are focused on getting our team to play better. Four years ago, when we played at MSG in the same Preseason NIT Tournament, our team got embarrassed with bad losses to Butler and North Carolina. We cannot let that happen again. Therefore, we will get to work on making our strengths stronger, and improve on our weaknesses. What are the team statistical things our staff will focus on? Minimizing our TURNOVERS! As of right now, our team has 37 assists and 51 turnovers. This is not acceptable. We must work on our decision making and understanding our offense. Sometimes the simple, easy pass is the best pass. In addition, we are over dribbling when we attack the basket. This is in part due to the fact that we are not shooting the ball very well from the perimeter right now. Although I think we have the capabilities of being a very good outside shooting team, 26.7% isn’t going to get it done.
On the other hand, the extra time guys are putting in the gym is paying off at the foul line as we are shooting 71.7% as a team. Even more eye popping is that our team has made (71) more free throws than our opponents have shot (62). We don’t beat Belmont without shooting 80% for the game. Most importantly our team is defending! Their effort and focus on our scouting reports has paid great dividends as we are currently holding our opponents to 37.4 shooting percentage (Goal: Below 40%). This is also a reflection of our depth. We have the ability to wear our opponents out because when our 2nd unit comes in, the other team’s starters have to stay out there against a similarly talented and hard working group. When Missouri State had some of their backups in because their starters needed rest, our energy guys like Steven, Skylar, John and Renaldo took over. We have 10 guys playing 12 minutes or more a game. Throughout the year it is going to be our TEAM vs. the opponents 7 or 8 guys. This always serves Coach Pearl’s teams well!
I strongly believe that everything you do correlates to the results of your task. If you practice at game speed, eat right, get the right amount of sleep, etc., your performance will more often than not reflect that preparation. We have done that the last week and a half and we must continue to do so as we prepare for our next game. Sure it’s an honor to play in Madison Square Garden BUT it’s an even greater honor to put on that orange and white Tennessee uniform and represent this University, our alumni and our fan base “every day and in every way.”
Become a fan of our official team page at www.Facebook.com/BallWithTheVols