Vols’ recent up-tempo is fool’s gold

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Updated: January 7, 2014

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Sports fans disagree a lot. Favorite sport, favorite team, even favorite types off game plans are common debates.

However, there’s one thing most fans agree on. Up-tempo basketball is fun to watch. Who doesn’t like fast breaks, crisp passes and dunks?

So when Tennessee, who opens SEC play against LSU tonight, showed a bit of of its up-tempo game in its non-conference games, fans rejoiced. Scoring 98, 87 and 82 points in its last three games against Tusculum, Virginia and Morehead State is exciting.

It was even reminiscent of days gone by. It was also fool’s gold.

Sure, there will be times when the Vols score in the 80′s and 90′s in SEC play. However, it won’t be the norm.

The Vols simply aren’t built that way. UT has two big men to lean on and that’s what the Vols will do. Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes are both 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds. Moreover, they’re not slashing big men. They’re more like old school post players.

Fans can clamor for fast breaking all they want but this isn’t that sort of team. Cuonzo Martin is also not that sort of coach.

By this point, every UT fan knows Martin is primarily focused on defense. He’s also smart enough to know how to recruit to his system and play to the strengths of his players. Constant alley-oops from half court aren’t the answer.

When UT is fast breaking, it’s based on defense. Also, the fast break isn’t the only way to score. Hitting shots stresses defenses and makes a half court team look like it’s going full court.

“Shooting the ball well brings a lot of confidence, enthusiasm,” Martin said. “Somehow guys manage to play a little bit better on defensive side of the ball, so that is always good.”

It didn’t take long for Martin to get back to defense. There’s nothing wrong with that. Defense in any sport is the most effective way to win games. Martin and his players have been tweaking that all season long.

“We were a ‘C’. We are probably a ‘B’ now,” Martin said when asked to grade his team’s play on defense. “We were a ‘C’, but I think we still need to tighten up some screws. I think guys are working towards that.”

The Vols will continue to work toward that tonight against LSU. Don’t count dunks against the Tigers. Count points, especially half court scoring when the Vols need it most. The occasional fast break won’t hurt, but it won’t likely be the mainstay of UT’s scoring.

“We’re definitely playing on the offensive end how we’re capable of playing,” guard Jordan McCrae said. “I think we’re moving the ball really well. We’re getting out a lot better than we were and getting easy points. Jeronne and Jarnell are getting doubled and throwing it out of the post well. As long as we’re shooting wide open shots then we’re fine.”

The Vols are capable of playing the type of defensive basketball that is most effective in a tournament situation. Sure, they could score a few more points. However, if they don’t play defense, there won’t be a tournament to worry about.

Rallying fans is not the media’s job. However, getting down on a mostly defensive-minded team doesn’t make any sense.

There are too many examples where offensive-minded coaches have fallen short in every sport. That, unlike so many other things in sport, isn’t up for debate.

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