Tennessee SEC Tourney Recaps/Previews


UTsports.com SEC Tournament correspondent William Mayfield recapped Wednesday's two opening games from Bridgestone Arena and previews Thursday's action.

Georgia vs. LSU - 1 p.m. ET
Things get going \ Thursday when No. 8-seed LSU takes on No. 9-seed Georgia. SEC Player of the Year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope leads Georgia (15-16) against a hungry LSU team (18-11) that most likely needs to win the SEC Tournament if it hopes to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers boast a large frontcourt led by first-team All-SEC forward Johnny O'Bryant III, who is leading the team in scoring (13.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg). Despite LSU's size advantage, stopping Georgia's Caldwell-Pope will be no easy task, as the guard is the league's second-leading scorer. Georgia won the only matchup between these two in the regular season, triumphing 67-58 at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga.
Note: Although the focus Thursday is all basketball, Georgia and LSU have met three times in the SEC Championship Game on the gridiron.

Tennessee vs. Mississippi State - 3:30 p.m. ET
The fifth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers (19-11) face the Mississippi State Bulldogs (11-21) Thursday afternoon. Tennessee comes in having won eight of its last nine games and is widely considered to be an NCAA Tournament bubble team. The Vols offense is fueled by first-team All-SEC guard Jordan McRae, who averaged 19.2 points vs. league opponents this season. Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray, who has coached on the same staff as Cuonzo Martin at Purdue, is likely to give Tennessee primarily a zone look to help contain Vols big man Jarnell Stokes. Tennessee won the only meeting between these teams earlier this season at Thompson-Boling Arena, 72-57.
Note: Tennessee is looking to make its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in the last eight seasons.

Arkansas vs. Vanderbilt - 7:30 p.m. ET
No. 7-seed Arkansas (19-12) looks to log its 20th win of the season against a young, 10th-seeded Vanderbilt squad (14-16). Arkansas may not need to win the SEC Tournament to punch a ticket to the "Big Dance," but it is most likely would need to reach the championship game. Arkansas' two-headed monster of B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell, both of whom are averaging more than 14 points per game, looks to lead the Razorbacks into a Friday matchup against Kentucky. Despite its eight conference losses, Arkansas has quality wins over Florida and Tennessee this season, in addition to a victory over Kentucky. Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings hopes to overcome his team's disadvantage in experience and slow down the game to combat Arkansas' full-court pressure. Arkansas held Vanderbilt to just 33 points in a 56-33 victory over the Commodores in January.
Note: Vanderbilt defeated Kentucky in last season's SEC Tournament Championship Game and was only one of two teams to defeat the eventual national champions all season.

Missouri vs. Texas A&M - 10 p.m. ET
The two SEC newcomers tipoff in the tournament's nightcap Thursday. No. 6-seed Missouri (22-9) - likely already qualified for the NCAA Tournament field, will be playing with a chip on its shoulder after failing to capture a double-bye on the last day of the regular season. The Tigers' first-team All-SEC point guard, Phil Pressey, comes in averaging 11.9 points and 7.1 assists per game. Texas A&M will also have to find an answer for Missouri forward Laurence Bowers, who is averaging 14.8 points per game. Both teams have skilled frontcourts, but Texas A&M (19-14) will likely need another huge performance from star guard Elston Turner if it hopes to advance to Friday's quarterfinals. Texas A&M won the only matchup between these teams in the regular season, 70-68.
Note: Each of Missouri's nine losses this season came at neutral sites or in true road games.

Mississippi State 70, South Carolina 59
Mississippi State moved to 11-21 with a win over South Carolina Wednesday. The Gamecocks fell to 14-19 on the year. The first-round matchup was the first SEC Tournament game played on a Wednesday in league history. The Gamecocks struggled from the floor, shooting 24-of-64 (37.5 percent) and turned the ball over 17 times in what will most likely be the last game of their season. Mississippi State was helped by an impressive performance from freshman guard Fred Thomas, who scored 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting. The Bulldogs face Tennessee Thursday at 3:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network).
Note: Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin and Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray were assistants together at Purdue and know each other very well.

Texas A&M 71, Auburn 62
Auburn was unable to hit the 10-win mark, as the Tigers (9-23) fell to Texas A&M (19-14) Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena. First-team All-SEC guard Elston Turner of Texas A&M led all scorers with 22 points. Auburn senior Frankie Sullivan concluded his career with a 19-point performance but was unable to help the Tigers overcome a bigger Aggies front court, which helped A&M out-rebound the Tigers 31-21. Texas A&M faces former Big XII Conference foe Missouri Thursday at 10 p.m. ET.
Note: Despite never having met in the SEC Tournament, Texas A&M and Missouri played each other in the 2011 Big XII Tournament. The Aggies got the best of Missouri in that clash, winning 86-71.

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.

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