KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee has played itself into the national championship picture by bulldozing into the Midwest Regional semifinals and will take on No. 2 seed Michigan (27-8) on Friday – the third anniversary of Cuonzo Martin being introduced as the Volunteers’ 18th head basketball coach – at 6:10 p.m. in Indianapolis.
CBS will televise the game.
Martin, who many fans were ready to push out so that former coach Bruce Pearl, embarrassed and banished from his job due to, among other things, lying to NCAA investigators during a recruiting scandal that eventually led to his firing could make a triumphant return, has now led the Vols (24-12) past Iowa, UMass and Mercer – in a span of five days – by an average winning margin of 17.3 points.
And Pearl has been hired at Auburn.
The Vols have won eight of their last nine games and this marks only the second time Tennessee has won three NCAA tournament games. The Vols also did that in 2010.
Tennessee’s impressive late-season run is highlighted by the fact the lone loss in weeks was a SEC tournament semifinal loss to top-ranked Florida.
The Vols are the third “First Four” team to advance to the Sweet 16, joining Virginia Commonwealth (2011) and LaSalle (2013). VCU advanced to the 2011 Final Four before falling to Butler, 70-62.
On Tuesday, Martin and the Vols met with the media in advance of Friday’s big showdown with the Wolverines.
The press conference transcript:
“I am just excited for our guys about the opportunity for our guys to play in the Sweet Sixteen against a very talented Michigan team. A team that can execute as well as anybody in the country on offense, guys that can make shots, they are shooting 40 percent as a team. Four guys are shooting over 40 percent and one is at about 57 or 58 percent. You have a well-coached team. They were in this position last year, so it should be fun for our guys. We are excited about it but we are still very hungry.”
(On how Michigan compares to any SEC teams)
“Mizzou when they have Ross at the four position, not when he is at the three but when he is at the four, that is when they spread you out and they attack the rim and make plays. It is very similar to Mizzou when they have Ross at the four.”
(On the change in opinion of the fan base over the last few weeks)
“For me, the great thing for me is that I have had the same friends since I was 5 or 6 years old and that hasn’t changed. That has been consistent. Outside of that everything is pretty much a bonus as far as I am concerned. For our guys, these are the things I talk about from day one in June or July. This is what might happen. How to you handle these situations? Stay even keeled. But there is nothing wrong with a pat on the back. Understand why and how you got to this point. It is part of it, but I still don’t get a lot of sleep. That doesn’t change for me. Making sure these guys get up and go to class, continue to be successful off the court. It never stops. That is the way it is.”
(On Nik Stauskas)
Very talented. I think whenever he decides to leave college, I know coach wants him there for four years, but when he decides to leave there is no doubt in my mind that he will play at the NBA level. At 6-6, he can really shoot the ball. Can put the ball on the floor. Watching it last year he is more of a catch and shoot. Now he puts the ball on the floor, makes plays, comes more off the ball screen, gets around the rim and dunks the ball on your, goes over on top of you, makes decisions out of that ball screen. I guess that is why he is the Big 10 Player of the Year in a league that is so tough and so physical. But very talented, it is going to be a tall order because he can do a lot of things with the basketball.
(On Jordan Morgan)
“He is very important. I recruited him when I was an assistant coach at Purdue. He is a great basketball player with a great family. He had an injury last year, and I think he sat out quite a bit. He is a guy that has a good feel for the game, a good grip of the game, and understanding of the game. He grew up in Michigan. He is a good defender that knows how to read defenses. He scores when he has opportunities, but he is a great leader for their program.”
(On playing like a Big Ten school)
“The Big Ten is physical and hard-nosed, and that is how we play. That is who we are, and that is how we win ballgames. Everybody has their own style, but we have to pound it inside. We have to keep our spacing on the perimeter and make timely threes, but we need to go through our bigs.”
(On Glenn Robinson III)
“He is a great kid, and his family has done a great job of raising him. I am happy for him and the success he is having. I don’t want to see him play well on Friday, but he is a good kid and deserves everything he gets.”
(On facing Glenn’s father)
“In 1994, we actually had to go to Michigan for the Big Ten conference. I have seen Glenn play well. We played here in the ’94 tournament in Knoxville. They put the ball in the basket, so we will have to find a way to win the game.”
(On Jarnell’s rebounding this year compared to past years)
“He is a guy that watches a lot of film. He gets the DVDs and studies. He listens to what people say and uses that as motivation to get better. Some guys can crumble from things that get said about them, but you have to embrace that. I’m glad he is able to do that because it has improved both parts of his game on the floor. I was happy to hear that Langston Hall from Mercer acknowledged how Jarnell has made the adjustments defensively that he lack a year ago on ball screens. I am happy for him because he listens and wants to be a good player.”
(On Josh Richardson playing well on offense as of late)
"Well, I just think that's Josh, and again he can go out against Michigan and have six points, but still play a good game, but when he is aggressive and his shots are falling, then he is a different player, and we like for him to stay aggressive, but again it is at his own pace, if he feels comfortable out there because I know as a player sometimes coach wanted me to shoot the ball and I wasn't as assertive early in my career to shoot the ball, but it is how he is feeling and if his shots are going, he is aggressive, he is going to be extremely tough to defend."
(On ever coaching somebody on how to be a leader)
"Well, I think as coach, what I do is I coach a team on how to be leaders, but I also tell the guys in order to be successful as a leader somebody has to follow because you have to know what it means to lead, you got to be able to follow first and understand how to lead, and that's what I talk about because I don't think everybody can be a leader. In Jarnell Stokes' case, he is a leader, but he is not very vocal. He is one of those guys that will pull you to the side. Jeronne Maymon is a guy that will say it in front of everybody. Everybody has their own style – different approach, but the results are the same."
(On taking a 'selfie' in the locker room after the Mercer game)
"I got a crook in my neck. No, it was fun. My second boss, it was his idea. I was like, 'man what is a selfie.' I don't know if I'm that played out, but it was fun. I have never taken one, but my daughter has taken 1,000 of them, but not me."
(On team criticism)
“I think the thing for me, and my mom taught me this early in life and I didn’t understand it at the time, she just said if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That’s why I’m quiet a lot of the time. It’s a sport and it’s a business at the end of the day. We talk about guys going to school and getting degrees and all that, and for me, that’s very important. But, it seems for some that the bottom line is winning ballgames and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think as a coach you have to keep a perspective, what’s your goal, what’s your plan for all your guys. Not every one of our guys are going to be pros, but they can be successful in their careers. That’s my job to help them with that. I don’t get consumed with what goes on because it’s time and energy wasted. If you can’t control it, why worry about it? At the end of the day, I don’t care how successful you are. Some people won’t like you for whatever reason, so why waste time on it? One thing I’ve always lived by, unless they change, there will only be one body in that casket when I’m gone. That’s the most important thing.”
“It’s definitely a concern with this team. When you get to this point, you’re playing against the best. The margin for error is very slim. They shoot it very well. We have to contest that line. But the thing about it, when you get them off the line, they can make plays off the dribble. They run their plays and it’s almost like you would like for them to score out of their set plays because when the set plays break down, they have four guys that can take you off the dribble and make plays and make shots. That’s the biggest thing. I think it was good for us to play against a Mercer team that runs those sets and is a good three-point shooting team, because the thing we talked about against Mercer, you have to limit their rotations. If you’re constantly rotating against a Mercer, then a Michigan team is going to be a long night for you. Really limit the rotations, so the one-on-one defense has to be really good for us.”
(On post play)
“For me, I feel like Jarnell [Stokes] gets fouled every time down there. I really do. I’m not saying that to say the officials are bad. I’m not saying that. I think he gets fouled every time down. But, because he’s so big and his lower body is so strong, you don’t move him, sometimes they don’t make the call. But, I think in the NCAA tournament, the calls are being made more so than probably in other settings. He’s such a physical guy. I tell the officials all the time, a foul is a foul. It doesn’t matter if a guy is 5 feet tall and he bumps him, just because he doesn’t move, it’s still a foul.”
(On Michigan not playing there two bigs at the same time)
"It's no different. We switch 1-4 regardless who we are playing so they got a 4-man that can shoot, we switch 1-4, and I'm usually guarding guards anyway."
(On being comfortable guarding a guy that likes to shoot instead of posting up)
"I think that is actually easier to guard. I'm not sure how many guards they have that can really get to the hole and finish so guarding shooters, just trying to chase them off the line."
(On exploiting it on the other end of the floor)
"Most definitely, we want to just play our game, and we play inside-out anyways, but you don't want to try to over force the issue because we know they are kind of thin inside."
(On how important it is to stick with that game plan)
"I think that would be very hard for us because that is not the way we play. They shoot a lot of threes; they make a lot of threes so I think it is our job as a team to run them off that line."
(On keeping the same us-against-the-world chip when people are showing you love)
"No, I mean you got to keep the same mentality that got you there. Stick with what works."
(On how playing with little margin of error helped you once you got to the tournament)
"Well, we never sat out or even talked about this is a must win game, just said go out there, play hard, rebound, and defend. Everything else will take care of itself."
(On campus support for the team)
"A lot of people asking for pictures and stuff more than usual. Just people excited about everything."
(On maintaining their mentality)
"Right now everybody wants Michigan in their elite 8 so, I mean we're still against a lot of people."
(On their unexpected success driving them)
"We're just fighting for each other. Fighting for our coach through all this and we just need to make sure we stay together as a family."
(On adjusting to a 'gym not made for basketball')
"It's no adjustment, you have to be ready to go unless they put a court out there on Neyland or something. There's no other way to get ready for it."
(On being challenged by the shooters more so than usual in the upcoming game)
"Yeah, I know, glanced, got the urge just to watch. They were a really hard team to guard just for the fact that they start 4 guards and, like you said, they can all shoot and go off the drills. So it's going to be a good test for us."
(On their next game being a considerable step up from previous games)
"Iowa was a team that was really hard to guard and Mercer was as well as UMass. They all brought different things to the table. I think playing all those games is going to help us out in this game a lot."
(On Kentucky fans cheering for UT over Michigan)
"I'm not sure Kentucky wants to play us again. I'm not sure they want to play Michigan, the team that won the Big 10, so I don't know. I think they should root for the SEC."
(On being in a 'do or die' situation and if the pressure has helped them)
"It did. Like you said, we were first 4 in and stuff like that for a while during the season so those were must win games. Especially the Iowa game, if we'd lost the season would have been over with, so I feel like a lot of our guys aren't ready for the season to be over with."
(On if it surprises him that UT is the lowest seed remaining in the tournament)
"No, I mean, what are we supposed to do?"
(On the team's confidence level ever being shaken this year)
"At this point we're confident. We're not overconfident. We know that all the teams we're playing are great teams. There are some of the losses our confidence never waived but we just, as the season went on, losing to A&M, we just got a little more worried."
(On if he knew the team was capable of this kind of success)
"Oh yeah I think everybody did. Just the talent we have. The individual talent we have it's just a matter of bringing it all together and we brought it together at the right time."
(On where the team has improved down the stretch)
“A sense of urgency every possession. I think we have been playing together a lot more. I think it starts with all of the guards. Just pressuring the ball on the perimeter. The big guys have been playing really good post defense so I can’t attest to that but I think the big tone setter is on the perimeter.”
(On Nik Stauskas)
“He is a great player. He shoots threes, he can drive to the hole, he can do pretty much everything. It will be a tough cover again. Their offense pretty much flows through him and he leads in points and assists so it will be crucial to get him out of his rhythm. It is just another player. I have been guarding guys like that for a while now. It is nothing new.”
“Campus is buzzing. We got back at like 2:30 in the morning and there were about 100-150 people outside waiting for us. That was fun. I would say everywhere we go we get high fives and pats on the back and it is great knowing you have a good support system behind you here.”
(On the welcome from UT on Sunday night)
“I was surprised myself because no way I would be staying up until 2:30 in the morning to slap a couple guys fives but it is special to know that you have people that care that much around you.”
(On Cuonzo Martin)
“He is going to be the same way every day. He is going to be the same coach Martin that he was after we lost to Texas A&M. He is going to be even keeled and keep everyone grounded. It is great to have a coach like that. He is the same every day. When he shows emotion like he did after these last couple of wins it makes it that much better and makes you appreciate it more.”
JARNELL STOKES TRANSCRIPT
"I haven't seen much of them on tape. We're probably going to watch it right before practice today. I watched them play and they can shoot the ball very well. They're somewhat similar to Mercer, because they can shoot the ball and they run the offense well and the ball screen. Defense will be important for us."
(On being the underdog)
"That's definitely been one of our motivations, just knowing that we have talent. I wouldn't call us a Cinderella because we have guys who were highly recruited out of high school and we have veterans, so I wouldn't call us a Cinderella, but it's definitely motivation that people have doubted us and we've been in so many close games this year, we just haven't found a way to win up until now. This is the right time to be winning."
(On Tennessee defense)
"Energy, enthusiasm – guys are passionate about stopping their man and playing defense. We're holding each other accountable and we're trusting each other a lot."
"We're trusting each other a lot. When there's a breakdown, we instantly solve it. We go straight to the source. No one is getting offended by that. Therefore, if we're holding each other accountable, it's harder to make mistakes. We realize that it's not okay. You can't let the coach be the only one telling you what's good and what's bad on the defensive end."
"Michigan likes to shoot the ball and sadly teams like that can be hot any night, so sometimes, you have to be a little bit lucky, hoping that they don't hit a lot of shots, get off to a slow start. We definitely have to continue playing our game plan, do what got us here and having a balance type of offense."
(On traveling by bus)
"I hate it. As a bigger guy, I hate sitting in the bus for five hours. I think we're riding the bus again to Indianapolis.
"We're not. We're flying? OK, good."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)