Tennessee’s Supply Of Proven Production Running Low

When Cuonzo Martin left his post at Missouri State to take over for Bruce Pearl at Tennessee, there should be no doubt that he did his research on the situation. He knew there was a cloud hanging over the program waiting only for NCAA approval before unleashing a torrential downpour on the Knoxville campus. He also knew that Pearl’s on-court success had heightened the expectations for what the Volunteers are and can be in the realm of men’s hoops. He knew the combination of these factors would make it tough for any coach to succeed there in the short-term.

What Martin likely didn’t know, however, was just how dire his roster situation would become this off-season. In a best-case scenario, he would be entering his first campaign in Knoxville with at least one of Scotty Hopkins or Tobias Harris still around alongside incoming recruits Chris Jones and Kevin Ware. Instead, in a worst-case scenario, none of those four players will be with the Volunteers in 2011-12.

The rosters losses wouldn’t sting so much if Tennessee wasn’t so senior-heavy in 2010-11. In addition to losing Hopkins and Harris to the NBA, five other contributing players — Melvin Goins, Brian Williams, Josh Bone, John Fields, and Steven Pearl — have used up their college eligibility. As a result, Martin will welcome back just three regular rotation players from last season. And as the following chart displays, those three players weren’t exactly the production powerhouses of the team.

Cameron Tatum should certainly get his shot to be the lead guy next season as he’s the only returner who was among the team’s top-five scorers in 2010-11. He’ll also be counted on to provide some senior leadership for a squad that will be short on upperclassmen. Senior-to-be Renaldo Woolridge may also finally earn a shot to be more than a limited-minutes guy, though it’s no secret he’s had a far more effective rapping career over the last three years!

Coach Martin has signed four recruits thus far for 2011-12, bringing the total scholarship roster to 11 players. Though as GoVolsExtra.com points out, the team will be short on proven frontcourt players. Over the past few seasons, the Volunteers have been in the top quarter of Division I in effective height, which is at least partly a reason why they were a consistently solid defensive team under Bruce Pearl. Martin’s teams at Missouri State were never huge on effective height, and perhaps consequently, he never coached an elite defense while there (he did however have some very fine offensive units).

Martin will be tasked to “do more with less” in his first year at Tennessee both in terms of talent and size. Though he never got the Bears to the NCAA Tournament, his teams were contenders in a conference where maximizing the talent on the court was a must and where size differential certainly came into play against power-conference opponents. Now he’ll just have to face those circumstances against the likes of Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, and the rest of the SEC on a nightly basis.

Worst of all, pending the NCAA’s rulings this summer, Martin might have to do all of that without the prospect of making a post-season tournament. With the loss of so much production from the prior year, maybe that’s a pipe dream for 2011-12 anyway. Though that alone likely won’t abate a Volunteer fanbase that has come to expect its men’s team to win — and to win big.

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