Simply put: Wind equals wins.
Most basketball games are still up for grabs entering the final 10 minutes. Often as not, the team that prevails is the team that has the energy and stamina to execute best during those final 10 minutes. Cuonzo Martin's Vols have been a testament to this concept through two exhibition games and two regular-season contests.
Crunch these numbers:
Up 58-47, UT outscored Carson-Newman 15-5 over the last 8:30
Up 64-60, UT outscored LMU 12-7 over the last 7:00
Up 70-51, UT outscored UNC Greensboro 22-12 over the final 8:30
Up 62-54, UT outscored Louisiana-Monroe 23-8 over the final 8:30
Lacking the raw talent to blow opponents off the floor, Tennessee needs every advantage it can get in order to win. Superior conditioning appears to be a winning edge for the Vols to date. Whereas Bruce Pearl's early Vol teams wore out foes with fullcourt-pressure defense and uptempo offense, Martin's first squad wears out foes with high-energy defense and a hard-working motion offense.
"I think that's what we're about," junior guard Skylar McBee said recently. "In Coach Martin's system, if you set the pace on defense and continue to do that through the entire game, it's hard on teams to handle that pressure the entire game. I think that's really going to be a benefit for us throughout the entire season."
Sophomore point guard Trae Golden, who has dropped from 208 pounds to 196 since Martin took the Vol reins, knows the value of conditioning better than anyone. He has more quickness and more stamina now that he has fewer pounds to carry around. That is enabling him to play more minutes and be more effective in late-game situations than last season.
"We're in good shape," he said. "Coach Martin always says that, with our defensive pressure and rebounding, after a while the opposing team will break down. That's why we pressure 'em so hard. I think it's something that really works in our favor."
Coming in from junior college, junior power forward Dwight Miller was in half-decent shape when he arrived on The Hill last summer. He has improved noticeably after a few months in Martin's conditioning program.
"At the beginning of the season something I really wanted to focus on was getting my conditioning to where I could play the minutes I wanted to play," Miller said. "If you want to play the minutes, you have to have the conditioning to do it.
"Coach and I had a talk: When you're on the court the only thing you want to worry about is the guy you're playing against in your matchup. You don't want to be worrying about 'Is your wind going to be there?' and that stuff. I've really focused on that this season."
Basically, all of the Vols have focused on conditioning this season. That's why they were able to pull away late against a depth-shy Louisiana-Monroe squad on Wednesday night, turning a paltry 62-54 lead into an 85-62 romp.
"We're a lot deeper than they were," freshman wing Josh Richardson noted, "and we made a point of emphasis to get fast-break points and run them because they don't have as many weapons as we have.
"All of that preseason work is paying off. I hated it then but I like it now."