By Frank Gale
Last weekend was a hard one for Volunteer basketball fans. The Vols once again showed the inconsistencies that have kept them out of the NCAA Tournament since Coach Cuonzo Martin arrived on Rocky Top. Coming off a road victory at LSU, they failed to close out a game at home and lost in the waning seconds to Texas A&M this past Saturday at home.
Rebuilding a basketball program is not like rebuilding a football program. In a couple of years, programs can turn around significantly. While the talent is now in place, there seems to be a lack of discipline on offense that has been problematic. The Vols lead the SEC in defensive scoring, but too many fouls have often disrupted the offensive flow with key players out of the mix because of foul trouble.
Big Orange fans are getting a bit restless. They have done what is expected of them, turning out in large numbers this past weekend, only to be sent home pondering another loss in a winnable game.
There are plenty of games left in the regular season for the Vols to still have a successful season. That would be great for all concerned, including a head coach whose continued time in Knoxville could be threatened if this team plays below their potential.
The Vols had a players' only meeting that preceded a mini four-game winning streak before it all came to an abrupt end last weekend. Coach Martin said he hopes the team learned something from their failure to close out that game. I would hope that the head coach and the staff also learned something as they are not exempt in this failure.
Wednesday night was a step in the right direction against Auburn. The Vols finished the game against the Tigers with a good second half effort, especially down the stretch, to put the game in the win column. Tomorrow the task becomes more challenging when the Vols play Kentucky at Rupp Arena following their recent upset at Arkansas this week.
Cuonzo Martin is a great role model for the student athletes and has shown that he can recruit players to UT that have both character and talent. However, in the 2014 sports world we reside in, it is more about wins and making it to the NCAA Tournament. Let’s hope that he can keep this team focused the rest of the way.
On the football front, Lane Kiffin, hired as the offensive coordinator for Alabama, will add extra meaning to an already bitter rivalry game this October. If Kiffin’s wife thought Knoxville was not to her liking, wait until she spends some time in Tuscaloosa.
Now, it is on to Lexington, KY, this weekend to play against a talented team with a head coach that demands success. This is a great opportunity for the Vols to improve their NCAA post season resume. In the SEC, those chances are few and far between. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)