Under the covers with the Vols.
It is now Thursday and though I'm fully confident we haven't seen the last of conference realignment, it's now time to get back to what we here at THE GLOBAL PHENOMENON do best: provide mediocre coverage of Georgetown Hoyas hoops. To get you back in the mood before Georgetown's game against Tennessee tomorrow in the Big East-SEC (or vice versa) Challenge, we've got not just one but two peeps ready to dish on all things Vols. Big ups to 1) our friends at Tennessee site Rocky Top Talk and 2) Pam Chvotkin, the daughter of the Voice of the Hoyas himself and proud graduate of the University of Tennessee who can always be found on the twitters @reddusfoximus. Volunteer volunteers, this Jack Daniels is for you. Let's do this.
What are your thoughts on the job Cuonzo Martin has done thus far? Do you see him as the long-term solution in Knoxville?
We absolutely see him as the long-term solution here. Other than one SEC Championship and Sweet 16 appearance in 2000, Knoxville had been a basketball graveyard since the Bernard King days in the mid-70s. Bruce Pearl changed all of that, but when he left the fear was we would go right back to the graveyard. But Cuonzo got a group of career backups who signed up for one brand of basketball under Pearl to buy in to his defense-first mentality by the time conference play rolled around last year, and Tennessee finished second in the SEC and just missed the NCAA Tournament. Not bad for a team picked to finish 11th in the SEC in the preseason media poll. Cuonzo followed that up by signing his second five star player in as many years. So far he has done everything the right way, is extremely respected as a leader of men, and his teams play a brand of defense that will give Tennessee a chance to win every night.
What is your all-time Tennessee starting five?
Joining Bernard King would be his teammate Ernie Grunfeld; again, The Ernie & Bernie Show was Tennessee Basketball until very recently. Allan Houston is the program's all-time leading scorer. The next two best players in UT history are probably Dale Ellis and Chris Lofton; if you want a traditional starting five, Pearl Era stars C.J. Watson at point guard and Wayne Chism at center would make the cut.
I am one of the top hoops prospects in the nation. Convince me why I should attend Tennessee.
Cuonzo is first and foremost big on relationship building and earning a family's trust, making boys into men. It's been great to see him recruit so well with such class and respect - he's never had an NCAA violation on any level. Thompson-Boling Arena is also a huge selling point for us: it's the third-largest on campus basketball arena in the nation (21,678) and after renovations in 2007 it is on par with many NBA arenas in overall production value. From 2006-11 the Vols made six consecutive NCAA Tournaments with three Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight appearance in that span, so winning has become a huge selling point for us. We're still behind on NBA productivity, with C.J. Watson in Brooklyn and Tobias Harris in Milwaukee the only former Vols in the league right now.
What happens when you start to hear "Rocky Top" being played, whether it be on the radio, by the band or in a bar. Pretty much stop whatever it is you're doing and start clapping? Singing? Is there a song out there more associated with a school than Rocky Top is to Tennessee?
During games the crowd will put a Ric Flair "WOO!" in Rocky Top at the end of the chorus, and that's translated to any environment you hear the song in; spontaneous wooing in random situations becomes one of our things that way, I guess. The only other fight song I think people can name off the top of their heads is Hail to the Victors, but since it tends to get no radio/non-sporting event play, we think Rocky Top is the winner in terms of instant school association.
Whatever I'm doing when I hear Rocky Top, yes, I will often stop what I am doing and start clapping (and if it's in public, I'll probably clap even louder). Definitely singing, definitely head nodding. It is a such a staple with Tennessee athletics symbolizing success and referencing the local culture. Despite not being the official school fight song, it might as well be.
Who are some of the players that Georgetown needs to worry about Thursday night? Top scorers? Rebounders?
Jarnell Stokes, Cuonzo's first five star signee, is the main attraction for Tennessee. Stokes is every bit of 6'8" 270 and still just 18 years old; he enrolled early last year and played the second half of the season. He wasn't eligible to enter the draft because he was only six months out of high school, and now as a sophomore he's just so much more polished. He averages 15.2 points and 7.4 rebounds in about 29 minutes. Tennessee's huge advantage was pairing stokes with senior Jeronne Maymon in the post, but Maymon is still out from complications after offseason knee surgery, so Stokes is really the go-to guy. Point guard Trae Golden is one of the best in the SEC, he's our second leading scorer and really makes things go for the offense. And watch out for Skylar McBee shooting threes at 42%. Tennessee lost only one senior contributor from last season (plus Maymon's injury), so our guys are incredibly experienced.
Did you enjoy the latest James Bond film?
I really did - it looked like whoever made that film sat down and watched The Dark Knight about a hundred times, then tried to figure out how to make that work in the James Bond universe, but I'm not complaining.
How would characterize the Tennessee brand of basketball under Coach Martin?
Defense, defense, defense. Last year only Kentucky was better in the SEC in field goal percentage defense; the Vols held conference opponents to 39.3% from the floor and a 44.2% effective field goal percentage. Tennessee plays only man-to-man, but Cuonzo refuses to put defensive liabilities on the floor; Jordan McRae is probably our best pure scorer, and he comes off the bench in favor of Josh Richardson, one of our best defenders who averaged 2.9 ppg last year. The Vols typically play hard and well enough defensively to give themselves a chance to win against anybody. Offensively we are sometimes prone to long scoring droughts; the Vols got bounced in the second rounds of the SEC Tournament and NIT last March thanks to a pair of 7+ minute flat lines in the second half. The Vols run a motion offense that's currently designed to get the ball to Stokes inside and either have him score or take advantage of the defense collapsing; Trae Golden will penetrate some as well. Our greatest temptation is to shoot threes too quickly against a zone; that got the best of us against Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico, where we lost despite holding them to 41% from the floor and 62 points because we got impatient and went 5 of 23 from the arc. The defense has always been there under Cuonzo, the offense just needs a little more focus and polish.
Where do you see the Vols finishing in the SEC this season?
The preseason media poll had the Vols fourth behind Kentucky, Missouri, and Florida. I would put the Vols clearly ahead of Florida - we dominated them twice last year and have absolutely owned Billy Donovan since Pearl showed up (Florida went 3-0 against UT in 2011 in Pearl's last season; otherwise UT is 10-2 against the Gators since 2006). Missouri is tough to read because they have so many transfers, and Kentucky is tough to read because they have so many freshmen. I'd put the Vols in that mix of three at the top.
How did Peyton Manning wind up at Tennessee? It's always seemed odd to me that he didn't stay local (like LSU) or go to Ole Miss like his father Archie and brother Eli.
Ole Miss was just 19-15 from 1991-93 leading up to Peyton's decision, and LSU was much worse at 12-21. Meanwhile Tennessee was 27-8-1 in that same three year span. Because Florida was so great (and always beat Tennessee) in the early/mid-90s in the SEC, people often forget how good Tennessee was at the same time. Phillip Fulmer and David Cutcliffe did a great job recruiting him, we'd just had Heath Shuler finish second in the Heisman at quarterback the year before Peyton got here, and Tennessee is the second winningest program in SEC history behind Alabama. They knew he could thrive here and they were absolutely right.
If I have one night in Knoxville, Tennessee - where am I eating and where am I partying?
Calhoun's is the best restaurant in town and among the best BBQ in the south - there's one right on the water in front of Neyland Stadium. College kids party on The Strip, with a ton of places to eat and drink. Older folks tend to migrate toward downtown Knoxville, just next door to campus, which has really come alive in the last few years, and find themselves in Market Square, on Gay Street, or in The Old City.
Calhoun's. Documented. via farm3.staticflickr.com
If you want a fantastic burger go to Litton's Market & Restaurant. Want other parts of the cow? Ye Olde Steakhouse is the obvious choice. If you're at the game & hungry, you must grab a Petro's and a Hint o' Orange sweet tea. Definitely hit up the Old City to party. The UT strip is packed before and after games, but predominately college kids...pick your poison.
Hint o' Orange Sweet Tea. Documented. via distilleryimage4.s3.amazonaws.com
Now that the Bruce Pearl era is firmly in your rear-view mirror, what are your thoughts on how the University and NCAA handled that situation and how do Vols fans perceive Pearl today?
We love Bruce Pearl. Without Bruce Pearl, we're still just trying to make the NIT and cycling up to the dance is a great season. He changed everything about UT Basketball overnight, took us to number one, won an SEC title and made the program's first ever Elite Eight, missing the Final Four by a point. He will always be loved here. But it's also his fault he's not here anymore - I think the BBQ for underclassmen was stupid, but it also wasn't a competitive advantage violation - Pearl didn't pay players and didn't cheat to get them in school, and honestly, when we look around and see John Calipari next door at Kentucky and all the other stuff that happens in college athletics, it really sucked to lose your beloved coach because he lied about a BBQ. But lying to the NCAA will get you every time. I think UT could've handled it better in 2011 so the (former) athletic director doesn't sabotage the coach on the radio the week of the NCAA Tournament and get you beat by 30 in the first round. And I think Pearl thought he would get less than a three year show cause, especially because he served an eight game suspension and lost a year's pay while he was still employed here, and because he came back and admitted his wrong to the NCAA. But again, ultimately it's his fault and what happened was probably always going to happen as soon as he lied. We're thrilled to have Cuonzo to keep it going.
How do you see this game playing out? Final score prediction?
Low scoring, which seems to be your brand of basketball so far too. I think there are a couple of key statistical advantages Tennessee has, especially in offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line. If we're patient on offense, I think we can hurt you. However, your current resume is so impressive with such strong performances against UCLA and Indiana, I'm inclined to give Georgetown the nod - you may or may not be better than the Oklahoma State team that beat us, but playing at home and with so much positive experience in big games already, I think you'll have the advantage. The vast majority of these UT players won big games last year and did so on the road at places like Florida, so I know we can, but I haven't seen us do it this year yet, so I'll take Georgetown in a close one 64-60.
Scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most casual (this is obviously a good thing), please rate your experience at Tennessee and explain the pros and cons.\
I love Tennessee, but I'd have to rate it an 8-10 because of the constant construction always going on...parking, much like any other college campus, is a constant problem. The atmosphere for big football games is up there with any big name program, screaming with 100,000+ of your closest friends. It is an experience like none other, and the spirit and camaraderie was a huge draw to what makes Tennessee so great. Sometimes, though, the crowd "plays" down to the level of competition. Big SEC games or against in-state rival Memphis, however, will always exceed expectation. Basketball games really became a staple and brought new life to the program with the Bruce Pearl era, and of course we can't forget Pat Summit. Although Cuonzo Martin came in after I left, I know he's steering the program in the right direction.
Being as how you have Hoyas roots but went to Tennessee, what are your rooting interests in this game and what do you want to see happen?
This is a hard question because I'll have strong alliances to both. I have been in this situation before, the most recent was back in 2008 at the Old Spice Classic, which I also attended. The reality is, both teams are strong in their own rights...with players that can dominate. It should no doubt make for excellent basketball and why its a key matchup on the Big East/SEC ESPN schedule. I want both teams to do well. As for specific rooting interests, it will be an enjoyable game for me, since technically, neither team I'm a fan of can lose...