For a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament, Tennessee passes the eye test of a team underrated, motivated and an absolute handful for opponents to deal with on both ends of the floor.
Size and length stand out for the Volunteers, boasting a starting lineup with just one player under 6-foot-6 in senior point guard Antonio Barton (6-foot-2).
Tennessee rebounds the ball as well as anyone, averaging nearly 39 a game, almost nine more than their opponents.
Aggressive and formidable in the front court offensively, Tennessee averages 16.8 free throw attempts per game, hitting 72-percent of their 838 attempts for the season.
No. 2 seeded Michigan will have their hands full Friday night at 7:15 p.m. ET at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Here’s a closer look at Tennessee and Coach Cuonzo Martin:
Bio: In just his second season as the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers Cuonzo Martin, 41, has put his stamp on a program filled with tough, veteran performers. Martin spent three seasons as the man in charge at Missouri State (2009-11) amassing a 26-9 overall record in his final season, including a school record for conference wins in one season at 15-3 in the Mountain Valley Conference.
Martin played for legendary Purdue coach Gene Keady in the early 90’s while leading the Boilermakers to two of three consecutive Big Ten championships, averaging 18.4 points per game his senior season (1994-95). Upon leaving Purdue Martin held records in three-point makes in one game (eight) and was the all-time leader in career three-point makes with 179.
For Martin, his battles haven’t all been on the basketball floor. After playing four seasons professionally in the NBA and in Europe, Martin was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in November of 1997. Receiving his final treatment in the spring of 1998, Martin is in full remission after beating the deadly disease.
From 2000-2008 Martin was an assistant coach at his alma mater Purdue, known for his recruiting prowess in helping bring Robbie Hummel, JuJuan Johnson, Carl Landry and E’Twuan Moore to West Lafayette. The Boilermakers 2006 class was highly regarded and ranked in the top five in the nation.
In Martin’s first season with Tennessee in 2012-13, the Volunteers finished with an overall record of 20-13, including an 11-7 mark in SEC play. Standout victories included Wichita State, Xavier, Florida, Kentucky and Missouri, ultimately falling to Mercer in the first round of the NIT.
This season, Tennessee is 24-12, once again 11-7 in the SEC, qualifying for a first round NCAA tournament match-up with Iowa, winning by 13 in overtime. The Volunteers followed up the win over the Hawkeyes with victories over Massachusetts and Mercer in the second and third rounds to advance to their Sweet 16 duel with Michigan.
Senior G – No. 2: Antonio Barton (6-2, 180)
- In his first season since transferring over from Memphis Barton comes in averaging 7.7 points and two assists in 36 games played, including 27 starts. Barton can shoot the ball from the outside, actually notching a career-high 21-points on 5-of-7 three-point makes in the Volunteers win over Vanderbilt earlier in the year. Barton shoots 33-percent from deep, turning the ball over less than one time a game.
Junior G – No. 1: Josh Richardson (6-6, 196)
- Starting every game his sophomore season Richardson has followed that up with a very strong junior campaign that includes 35 starts in 36 games. Richardson comes in averaging 10.1 points per game despite a minimal drop in his rebounding average from a year ago. Richardson shoots 33-percent from three-point range but does most of his damage inside, shooting nearly 47-percent from the field. Advice? Don’t foul Richardson either; he comes in making just shy of 80-percent from the free throw line.
Junior F – No. 5: Jarnell Stokes (6-8, 260)
- Stokes has started every game each of the last two seasons, seeing a major increase in his overall production from his sophomore to junior campaigns. Stokes averages 15.2 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game, a load inside for opponents. Stokes gets to the free throw line at a tremendous clip, knocking down 159-of-228 attempts, just shy of 70-percent for the season. Stokes has been consistent on his field goal makes throughout his career, right at the 53-percent mark. One area to watch will be his turnovers; Stokes is guilty of just over two cough ups a game.
Senior F – No. 34: Jeronne Maymon (6-8, 260)
- Another transfer for Tennessee, Maymon is in his third season after leaving Marquette, averaging 9.9 points per game and 8.2 rebounds in 35 starts this season. Zero threat from the outside Maymon has just one attempt from three-point land on the year, knocking down nearly 54-percent of his field goal attempts overall. Maymon looks to be aggressive inside and spends plenty of time at the free throw line as well, hitting 104-of-152 attempts, just shy of 69-percent.
Senior G – No. 52: Jordan McRae (6-6, 185)
- McRae has started 73 games in his career at Tennessee, leading the Volunteers in scoring this season at 18.6 per game. McRae is a handful for opponents with a nice inside-out game, shooting a respectable 36-percent from three, 43-percent overall on his field goal attempts. McRae doesn’t just spend all of his time on the perimeter though, attacking and getting to the line 201 times this season, hitting just over 80-percent of his free throws. Stokes will hit the glass as well, averaging just fewer than four rebounds a game. One weakness, McRae averages just under three assists per game but turns the ball over at least two times every 40 minutes.
During NCAA tournament
- In the Volunteers’ overtime win vs. Iowa in the first round, a balanced attack proved too much for the Hawkeyes. McRae led Tennessee with 20-points in 42 minutes of work but it was Tennessee’s front line that led the way. Stokes was the biggest problem for Iowa as he scored 18-points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Richardson adding 17-points and eight rebounds while Maymon tallied nine points and seven rebounds. Tennessee went to the free throw line 30 times, knocking down 25 of those attempts. The Volunteers turned the ball over just eight times in the win.
- Tennessee made their presence felt inside once again against the Minutemen with Stokes leading the charge with 26-points and 14 rebounds, spending a significant amount of time at the free throw line hitting 12-of-13 attempts. Maymon proved to be a tremendous compliment in this one as he scored 11-points and grabbed 11 boards, hitting 5-of-7 field goal attempts. Richardson scored 15-points and handed out five assists, turning the ball over just one time. McRae, as consistent as always, poured in 21-points on 9-of-16 shots from the field. Tennessee shot 53-percent for the game, proving to be too much for UMass.
- Another game, another blowout and another dominant performance inside lifted Tennessee over the media darling, Mercer, 83-63. Stokes scored 17-points and pulled in 18 rebounds notching his third straight double double in the tournament. Stokes nearly outrebounded Mercer by himself. Richardson was the hot hand for Tennessee as he led the team with 26-points on 9-of-13 shooting. McRae didn’t have a normal day in the scoring department, hitting just 4-of-12 field goal attempts to finish with 14-points. Senior Antonio Barton stepped up in this one, hitting 4-of-9 attempts from three-point range totaling 18-points on the game. Tennessee’s starters scored all but two points in the win over Mercer.