There won’t be many first-year coaches in the country next season who find themselves in a tighter spot than Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin. In all likelihood UT’s new coach will have to deal with some sort of NCAA sanctions against his program. He’ll also have to replace a beloved figure in ousted coach Bruce Pearl. And he’ll need to do it with a roster that’s both small and thin.
Oh, and he’ll also have to win over a fanbase that’s grown accustomed to thriving in basketball.
But with Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris going pro early, the Vols have lost their two top scorers from a year ago. Martin is left with just one returning starter, one player over 6-8, and just seven scholarship returnees total.
Making matters worse, two highly-ranked prospects won’t be in Knoxville next season either. Chris Jones’ grades have forced him to the juco ranks. Kevin Ware is considering Georgia and Louisville after backing out on UT, but his grades are iffy as well.
And did we mention the fact that many UT fans are blaming Martin for Harris, Hopson, Jones and Ware not wearing orange next year? In reality, its likely Pearl would have been facing the exact same rebuilding job next season had he not imploded with a flurry of NCAA missteps.
Offense figures to be a major issue for the Vols next season. At least according to John Adams of The Knoxville News Sentinel. Oddly, Mark Wiedmer of The Chattanooga Times Free-Press writes just the opposite stating:
Laugh all you like, but Jordan McRae and Renaldo Woolridge — assuming “Swiper Boy” puts his musical career on hold long enough to finally earn the four years of free tuition, room and board the Vols have provided him — have the talent to become one of the more dangerous offensive duos in the Southeastern Conference.
Anything’s possible, but neither of those players could earn their way onto UT’s court with any regularity last season. So it’s hard to picture them going from zeroes to heroes in such a short span of time.
Whether UT can scrounge up enough offense to win or not, Martin isn’t making any excuses. “It’s just one of those deals (where) you have a bunch of guys that were role players and some guys who didn’t play a role. So now it’s trying to find a guy that can be a leading guy, leading scorer, leading post guy, leading perimeter guy, guy that can run off screens. Those things we have to find out as a staff.”
All while some fans unfairly compare his results to his predecessors. After all, it was Pearl who burned Tennessee’s program to the ground. Martin just inherited the mess.