NCAA rules prohibit Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin from giving the media a scouting report about Georgia Tech, the team the Vols will play on Sunday in a scrimmage at UTC’s McKenzie Arena.
Given those limitations, here’s a little primer, on the Yellow Jackets, the Vols, and that complicated NCAA rulebook.
Why play a scrimmage?
It’s a growing trend in college basketball. The NCAA allows teams to play two exhibition games, two scrimmages, or one of each. Some programs need the revenue, so playing two exhibition games is imperative. Tennessee—fifth in the nation in attendance last season—obviously isn’t in that situation. UTC coach John Shulman has chosen to scrimmage the last eight years, including on Saturday against Belmont, so it’s not just a tool for power conference schools.
It makes sense that scrimmaging against a team from the same level of Division I offers a coach a better chance to gauge his team’s preseason progress than blowing out a D-III school in an exhibition.
Why are the two teams playing in Chattanooga?
The best guess is that it’s equidistant between the schools. And here’s another educated guess: Houston Fancher, Tennessee’s director of basketball operations and the former head coach at Appalachian State, and Chattanooga coach John Shulman are old friends. It would have been an easy matter to book the Mocs’ gym.
Why can’t Martin talk about the game?
No coach this writer has ever spoken with about the NCAA rule could answer that question. It’s just another one of those issues that seems over-legislated in the NCAA’s Manhattan phone book-sized rulebook.
Tennessee can’t publicize the scrimmage—which is open only to essential personnel from the two teams and three officials—and after it’s over, Martin can’t talk about anything other than his own players. And even then, he can’t refer to statistics.
Now that’s over-legislated.
What does Tennessee hope to gain from the scrimmage?
For starters, how will the Vols handle the absence of Jeronne Maymon, their best and most consistent player a year ago who has been slow to recover from offseason knee surgery?
Martin told the press last week Maymon will probably miss some nonconference games. So that means senior Kenny Hall will have to step up. The word from preseason practice is that Hall has worked as hard as anyone on the team.
If Hall, who was suspended for the rest of the season last February and benched for non-hustle for a game during the Vols’ August tour of Italy, has finally gotten focused, he has the physical tools to offset Maymon’s loss. Hall is a rim protector, an athletic dunker/finisher and has put in considerable time improving his perimeter shot.
Don’t be surprised if Hall cranks up some 3-pointers this season. If he can make a few—and Martin’s five-man motion offense will ensure that he’ll get some chances—Hall will impact games in a way that didn't seem possible even a year ago.
Speaking of impacting games, Martin is eager to see if junior point guard Trae Golden can be more consistent defending his position and taking care of the basketball. If he does, Golden is an All-SEC player. On Sunday he’ll square off against a senior point in Georgia Tech’s Mfon Udofia.
No doubt Martin and his staff are curious to see if sophomore wing Josh Richardson, who has been impressive in practice, is ready to take his place in the starting lineup. Richardson is already the Vols’ best defender, capable of guarding every position but center. Richardson has also extended the range on his jump shot, and he’s been vocal in practice.
Can a sophomore be a team leader? Why not?
What about Georgia Tech? How good are the Yellow Jackets?
Tech, which returns five starters, is coming off an 11-20 record in coach Brian Gregory’s debut season, but he inherited a depleted roster. Worse, the Yellow Jackets’ were without a home after Alexander Memorial Coliseum was demolished and replaced by the state-of-the-art McCamish Center.
That nomadic way of life and lack of experience showed on the offensive end of the floor; Tech averaged 58.6 points in ACC games, a record low in the shot clock era. But Gregory’s emphasis on defense was equally apparent statistically. Tech improved from 222nd nationally in field-goal percentage defense (.440) in 2010-11 to 35th a year ago (.403). It held 15 opponents under 40 percent from the floor while allowing an average of just 62.6 points per game—the program’s fifth-best mark since 1955-56.
Udofia struggled at times last year as he adjusted to Gregory’s system, but by March he was playing his best basketball. Gregory expects even more. The Udofia-Golden matchup is intriguing.
Tech has a solid frontcourt, led by Kammeon Holsey, a 6-8 junior who missed all of his freshman year after undergoing knee surgery. Holsey, 6-11 junior Daniel Miller and 6-8, 245-pound freshman Robert Carter—the key player in a talented five-man recruiting class—make up what should be the strength of this team.