published Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Coach Cuonzo Martin still getting to know Tennessee Vols

KNOXVILLE -- While preparing for his first year as Tennessee's basketball coach, Cuonzo Martin watched every game the Volunteers played last season.

He might have learned more about his team from a few weeks of practice in October, however.

Even nine games into the season, Martin still is learning individual tendencies, strengths and weaknesses of his players, which has led to some struggles and losses on the court and continual tweaking of the rotation in practice.

"You're going on the fly," Martin said Monday. "You'd like to have your nine strong at this point, but it's so tough right now because you still don't have guys that have solidified spots from the standpoint of, 'I know this guy's getting 30 minutes a night. I know this guy's production every night.'

"That's part of any inexperienced team to go through, and hopefully we can get that thing done by conference play, when you have guys that know their roles and understand their roles. They have to do that themselves."

The Vols have five games left before opening Southeastern Conference play at home against No. 11 Florida, including tonight's game against visiting UNC-Asheville. UT will attempt to continue figuring itself out while trying to snap a four-game losing streak.

The Vols haven't beaten a Division I opponent since Nov. 16.

Martin was dealt a group of unproven players for his first hand, as the Vols lost 74 percent of the scoring and nearly 80 percent of the rebounding from the last year's team that he watched on video during the offseason.

There's been plenty of ups and downs among the players who have proven themselves so far this season. Senior wing Cameron Tatum, the Vols' most experienced player, has made one of 12 shots for three points the last two games. Trae Golden, Jordan McRae and Jeronne Maymon, UT's top three scorers, have seven games of single-figure scoring among them.

Martin said the Vols are "better off" offensively than he expected. There's "plenty of work" to do defensively, though, particularly from a pride and toughness standpoint, he said.

Given the tough start, it's not surprising that Martin could not label his team's identity.

"It's tough to say right now. I think it's a work in progress on both ends of the floor," he said. "I think you have the ability to score the ball, but I'd rather that identity be a tough, hard-nosed defensive-minded team. Whether you're scoring 80 or 90 points a game, that's fine, but that's the identity I want us to have. You work around it.

"Some of them definitely are capable of doing it, but it is just going through it, understanding what's expected [and] the level we expect it at. You don't want to make wholesale changes because now all of the sudden you have them confused. You stay consistent with what you're doing, then become better at it."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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