A lot has happened at Tennessee since last season: Bruce Pearl lost his job, Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris left for the NBA, and a sense of doom fell over Knoxville. Then Cuonzo Martin arrived.
We always liked him as a player at Purdue.Â He was tough, smart and reliable.Â He was sort of the understudy to the Big Dog, but he was no slouch. Nor has he been as a coach.
He turned in a super job at Missouri State, where he was 61-41.Â It's not that that's easy to do at say Marquette or Auburn or Georgia Tech, but it's easier. Winning 60% at Missouri State is impressive.
And given Martin's background, his career majoring in toughness under Gene Keady, growing up in East St. Louis, surviving cancer - he's going to get the most out of his guys.Â Just ask Coach K, who said this:
"They are hungry and they have something to prove, and whenever somebody takes over a new program, and it's not a talentless program â they have talent â they want to make their mark. So to have an opportunity to come here and get a chance to beat us, if I was in their shoes, I'd look forward to that opportunity. They are gonna fight you for 40 minutes. That's the kind of program he'll build there.
"I think all these kids did not have the roles they have now last year. We're looking at what currently has happened, they have played hard. Golden has had as good of a start as any kid in the country.
"Just from watching Cuonzo's teams the last thee years, they play hard and play together, they're tough and they play outstanding defense."
Exactly what you'd expect, really.
So far, they've played UNCG (92-63) and Louisiana-Monroe (85-62), both easy wins and hard to judge much from a distance.
Trae Golden is averaging 23 ppg, and four other guys are in double figures, between 13 and 10.5 ppg. Golden is also averaging 10 rpg.
Tennessee shot 64.6% against UNCG and had 31 baskets on 21 assists.
Against ULM, they hit 44.8% from the floor and took 29 threes, which was almost half their total shots against an inferior team. Not sure we understand that, but it makes you wonder.
The Vols have reasonable size (three 6-9 kids and Dwight Miller is 6-8 and 240)Â though Duke has more.Â Golden is a terrific guard and will be a pain.
While Coach K correctly says that the Vols see this game as a big opportunity, there is a lot going on for Tennessee.Â First just the simple act of putting the Pearl era behind them, second incorporating six freshmen and third adapting to a new coach and system.
Still, there can't be many better ways of starting over than by beating a major power in your third game out. So yes, Duke will have a challenge.
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