UTsports.com SEC Tournament correspondent William Mayfield recapped Wednesday's two opening games from Bridgestone Arena and previews Thursday's action.
SEC Tournament Media Day Transcript
THE MODERATOR: The Tennessee volunteers. We're ready to begin with Tennessee. We'll ask Coach Martin for his general thoughts on his Tennessee team coming into the tournament, then we'll take your questions just for the three student athletes and then excuse them and then finish up with coach. Coach, if you'd begin. COACH MARTIN: Feel good about where our team is right now. Guys are playing hard. We've gotten better on both ends of the floor. Our bench is getting stronger. Our starters are playing at a level we expect them to play at. We're distributing the ball, passing the ball better. We're not turning the ball over like we did earlier in the season. Just playing good basketball as a team. We're excited for the opportunity. THE MODERATOR: We'll take your questions just for the three student athletes.
Q. This is really for any one of the players -- student athletes, excuse me. Just your confidence level going into this tournament with the way you finished the season having won eight of nine, just going in. THE MODERATOR: Any one of them? Trae Golden: I think our confidence level is really good right now. Like Coach Martin said, we're playing really well together. We're playing for one another right now. So, it's -- the confidence is pretty high.
Q. For Jarnell, you had a great move on the reverse layup in the second half against Missouri on Saturday. Just how much have you worked on that move throughout the year? Jarnell Stokes: I work on moves like that all the time with our coaches in my free time. I think I'm very skilled in my back to the basket. That wasn't just a power move, that was more of a finesse-type move. I've also been working on those, too.
Q. For any of you guys, how could the experience of last year being on the bubble help you this week? THE MODERATOR: Is that for anyone of them? Jordan, you want to take that one? Jordan McRae: I just feel like we know what we got to do now. I feel like last year wasn't really sure how many games we had to win. Now we're just in here with our mind at ease trying to play as hard as fouling. Win as many games as possible.
Q. This is for Jordan and trey. Can you talk about Jarnell's improvement this year, particularly when he had the long streak of double doubles. Jordan McRae: I just feel like Jarnell is going a great job of understanding that they're going to double-team him down there and he's a lot more, more slow and patient than he was. He's doing a great job of getting a foul and getting to the line. Trae Golden: I just think Jarnell is really using his body and his strength against opponents, and I think that, you know, usually there's four, five guys hanging on him when he gets the rebound. You got to commend him for sticking to it, through the double teams and everything. He's doing a really good job with that.
Q. For trey, do you guys come in with a number in your head of what you need to get win-wise when you look at the NCAA Tournament, or is it just come in, get better and play your best? Trae Golden: We're looking at it one game at a time. Tonight we'll see who we play tomorrow. In all honesty, we're looking at our game tomorrow. We're not worried about the NCAA Tournament or anything. We're just worried about trying to win the SEC Championship and doing that game by game.
Q. This is for Jordan. I've noticed here in the stats real quick you had -- you led the Vols in six games with the most 3-pointers made. Now that's nearly half the schedule of 13 games. What's really improved your two-point shooting this season? Jordan McRae: I just think getting the ball inside to Jarnell, and he demands those double teams so we're getting a lot of open shots out there. Just trying to pick and choose when I'm S shooting me 3-pointers has gotten a lot better than it was.
Q. Trey, you talked about just the things that you guys can do for yourselves and improving the team. What are kind of the last -- the next step for you guys in terms of improvement whether it's offensive or defensive? What's something you really think needs improvement right now? Trae Golden: Honestly, I just think Jarnell we need too keep playing for each other. That's been the biggest key for us as of late. One man breaks down, somebody is there to help him. You know, more than anything, once we get a lead, you know, sustain it and making sure we continue to play our game and don't let any team dictate how we play.
Q. This is for Jarnell. You talked earlier this week I think about how earlier in the season, you know, obviously Jeronne wasn't there and you wished -- looking back you, wished you had gotten -- did you were kind of used to letting him get rebounds or whatever. Can you kind of elaborate on that, looking back you wished you'd maybe been more aggressive rebounding earlier in the year? Jarnell Stokes: Yeah. I never been just the type guy to go out to go after rebounds like I have as of late. I feel like part of that was Jeronne sort of helped me a lot on the rebound last year. I wanted to find a way to impact the game without scoring. I'm starting to find that on the rebounding end. THE MODERATOR: Any others for student athletes? Hands up. Okay. Thank you, fellas. We'll excuse you, you can return to the locker room.
We'll continue on with questions for Coach Martin.
Q. Couch Martin, you said after the Missouri game you thought your team had done enough to get in the NCAA Tournament. When they -- hear all this talk, the bracketology talk and the bubble always seems to be moving, do you think you might have been premature in saying that or do you still feel that way? COACH MARTIN: I wasn't premature. I said what I meant, for our guys to continue to be successful and win ball games. You don't come to a venue like this to lose a game. I don't get consumed with what's said on TV, not at all.
Q. This year you've done exactly what you did a year ago going down the stretch. You've won eight of your last nine SEC games coming into this tournament. What are the similarities of what did you last year and the differences?
COACH MARTIN: Well, I think you go back to my first year it was a coach that was taking over a team with new guys, not a lot of proven guys outside of Trae Golden averaged 13-plus minutes as a freshman. Lot of guys didn't play. You're trying to jell a team with a new system, new coaching staff, new style. It was tough earlier in the season, but the guys stayed consistent, they continued to get better. That's why you saw the results you did.
Going into this season, you're losing a key guy but you still had good parts. For me it was the system. We didn't play with a level of toughness, level of energy, togetherness on both ends of the floor early in the season, so the eight of last nine was the team coming together and the team getting better. I don't think the flow was where it was. I don't think there was a lot of individual sacrifice. Didn't really care about stats, all he wants to do is win ball games.
Taking a step further, when you look at NCAA Tournament teams, the case could have gone made last season, our preseason we didn't do just a good job. In this case, you lost to quality teams, you won some quality games and still won eight out of the nine last nine in a good league. We've put ourselves in good position.
Q. Cuonzo, let me ask you something about the other side of the bracket. On Kentavious Pope, for a guy -- coaches usually go with someone near the top of the standings. For a guy like him out of more in the middle of the pack to win, what does that say about him and what made him so great this year? COACH MARTIN: I think he's a good player. He was my vote, actually. You got to give credit where it's due. Lot of times, I'm always big on the fact that teams win championships, you put those teams up top. That's the way it is, older guy, those sorts of things, but when you talk about a guy when you say MVP talking about a guy value to the team, what he brings to the team. Also a talent level. He was my pick for those reasons, and I thought he did a good job with it even though his team didn't finish in the top two, three, four. I thought what he brought at the table as a player and how he made his other guys around him better, that's the reason why I voted for him.
Q. Cuonzo, going back to Missouri State in 2011 and last year, do those experiences show you that you can't leave it in the committee's hands and you have to take care of business this week? COACH MARTIN: Well, I think that's always the case. You know, you have to do your job, put yourself in position, but I also think that the SEC doesn't get the credit it deserves as a league. I mean you talking about a league of this caliber, this level of talent, I think going into last week nine teams in the top 100 in the RPI. The only other team with more is the Big East. We don't get the credit we deserve. Sometimes people might want to take shots at SEC for whatever reason. When you're talking about a league of this caliber with only three, possibly four teams in it, that's ridiculous.
Q. Coach, could you talk about a little kid, Rob Murphy, and what he's brought to your team the last two years, what does he bring in, day in, day out in? COACH MARTIN: The thing about Rob Murphy he brings his heart to practice every day. He's a very intelligent young man. He competes and plays hard. He brings a level of energy to practice every day. Gets those guys better. I've been big on the fact when you have guys that are walk-ons on your team, even though he's not on scholarship, he's just as much a part of team as anybody is. His value to the team is invaluable because of the things he does on the floor, off the floor, how he carry himself. He makes guys better. He's improved himself as a basketball player.
Q. Coach, nice to play in Nashville in Tennessee, you expect to see a lot of orange here in? COACH MARTIN: We do. We expect to see a lot of orange. Great area, great town. Also a good town to be part of some basketball. Lot of energy here. We expect to see a lot of orange.
Q. If you were to say one thing is your key to victory in the tournament going forward, what do you think that would be and why? COACH MARTIN: Well, I think there's more than one thing. In a venue like this, not a lot of reps that play on the floor and rims. Most players and shooters when they miss a shot early feel they're not used to the rim. Figure out a reason why shots aren't going. You have to be able to defend at a high level because shots don't fall, you still got to be able to get stops. Offensively you've got take care of the ball and put yourself in a position to make plays. You can't settle for three-point shots unless they're good shots. More than one thing but really offensively taking care of the ball and defense you got to be able to get stops.
Q. We also talked about you winning your last eight out of the nine for the past two seasons. Is there always something that triggers that near around that time? COACH MARTIN: I think more than anything I think it's a credit to our guys, our coaching staff. Just staying together, not allowing tough times to discourage you as a basketball player. Not allowing a tough loss to get you down. We had some tough losses, some emotional losses, but to stick together the way they did to continue to compete and keep a level of composure and they just have a passion for each other.
That's the thing we talk about as a coaching staff, lot of things that go into the game of basketball, Xs and Os and teaching on both ends of the floor. We spend time teaching them about life. We tell them not to let one game discourage you.
Q. The fact that everybody talks about depth when you might have to play four games in four days. Do you feel like your depth now might be a plus for you? COACH MARTIN: I think so. I think so. Our bench has gotten stronger. Kenny Hall gives us a big boost coming off the bench. Skylar McBee is a starter. We feel good about what where we are as a bench. That's the thing as a stat we work on from day one continuous strength in the guys that you never know when they'll gait an opportunity. Quinton was a prime example. Continue to work and get better. Now he's a guy in heavy rotation.
Q. Coach, winning the eight of nine, how much has that prepared your team you think for the post-season format where it's basically one game elimination type of situation? COACH MARTIN: I think more than anything the mental toughness part of it. The thing I talked to our guys about all the time I get Trae Golden when he was struggling, then all of a sudden he started playing really well. The thing I would always say to him, how are you playing if your shots aren't falling? My point was not to consume yourself with the offensive side. They go, they go, they don't, they don't.
You still have to be a complete basketball player. Those are the things we talk about being a complete basketball player, not get caught up in all the emotions of a team and worry about playing defense and getting starts. Those things you consume yourself with the results will follow.
Q. Hands up other questions? Last call. Thank you, Coach. COACH MARTIN: Thank you.