Pitt stops

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All of those Tennessee basketball fans who feared that the Cuonzo Martin era would be a replay of the Kevin O'Neill era — all defense and no offense — got it backwards.

Heading into this afternoon's 5:15 tipoff against No. 17 Pittsburgh, the 2011 Vols rank 10th among 338 Div. I teams in scoring offense (85.4 points per game) but 268th in scoring defense (72.2 points per game) based on NCAA statistics last updated on Nov. 27. If you factor in the 89 points Oakland hung on Tennessee earlier this week, the Big Orange would rank 302nd out of 338 teams in scoring defense at 75.0 points per game.

Clearly, comparisons to the O'Neill era are ludicrous. The Vols scored 49 or fewer points 15 times in O'Neill's three years at the helm, bottoming out in a 43-35 loss at Auburn in 1997. Conversely, the 2011-12 team has shown a knack for scoring since Martin replaced Bruce Pearl's flex offense with a motion offense. In fact, the Vols' average of 1.18 points per possession ranks 20th nationally and their 44.0 percentage from 3-point range ranks 16th.

"I think this offense is benefiting a lot of guys," said sophomore guard Jordan McRae, who posted 25 points in each of Tennessee's last two outings. "It's a lot of moving and cutting, so there's a lot of driving opportunities. When you drive, the defense collapses, so we get a lot of open 3s."

Even Martin seems pleasantly surprised by his team's offensive performance to date.

"We're scoring the ball at a high level offensively," he said. "We still need to consistently do a better job of executing — finding open guys, finding shooters, finding who's hot and also try to get the ball inside a little bit more."

Clearly, the Vols' big problem thus far hasn't been finding the basket but defending the basket.

"We've played some tough teams early," McRae said, referring to a sixth-ranked Duke squad, an eighth-ranked Memphis team and an Oakland program that reached the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011. "Guarding those kind of teams early is going to help us late. I think it will be good for us. I think we've done well so far."

Martin tends to disagree. He has been preaching defense since he was hired last March, and he is nowhere near satisfied with the defensive performance to date. Several Vols have not performed adequately in their individual matchups.

"We've got to do a better job with our one-on-one defense, more than team defense," the head man said. "I think we've got to take pride in getting stops individually.... I think it's a matter of pride more than technique."

NOTES: Tennessee shocked Pitt 83-76 last December when the Panthers were unbeaten and ranked No. 3 nationally. Interestingly enough, only three Vols who scored in that game will be available for the rematch — Cameron Tatum (14 points), Trae Golden and Skylar McBee (2 each).... Tennessee brings a 3-3 record into today's game, Pitt a 6-1 mark.... Martin says Jeronne Maymon, who was ineffective in a Game 6 loss at Oakland after missing most of Game 5 versus Chaminade due to an ankle injury, is "fine." ... Pitt's Jamie Dixon has a spectacular nine-year coaching record of 222-61.... The Panthers' projected starters are 6-9, 220-pound Khem Birch (5.2 points, 5.5 rebounds per game), 6-6, 205-pound J.J. Moore (6.4 ppg), 6-5, 225-pound Nasir Robinson (13.8 ppg) and 6-2, 190-pound Ashton Gibbs (19.3 ppg). No. 1 point guard Tray Woodall (15.0 ppg) will miss the game due to injury.... Today's contest will be televised by ESPN.


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