Given all of the above, pardon Tennessee basketball player Josh Richardson if he’s experiencing a serious case of déjà vu these days. Thus far, his senior year is virtually identical to his freshman year (2011-12).
“All of those things you mentioned are the same,” he told InsideTennessee.
Indeed. Only the names have changed. The new coach in 2011-12 was Cuonzo Martin, fresh from a successful stint at mid-major Missouri State. The new coach this year is Donnie Tyndall, fresh from a successful stint at mid-major Southern Miss.
The new offensive system in 2011-12 was a deliberate halfcourt motion attack, a significant departure from the up-tempo weave offense of predecessor Bruce Pearl. The new offensive system in 2014-15 is a transition-based attack, much more like Pearl’s than Martin’s.
The new defensive system in 2011-12 was a halfcourt man-to-man, a major departure from the fullcourt press preferred by Pearl. The new defensive system in 2014-15 is a trapping fullcourt press/1-3-1 zone, a monumental departure from Martin’s straight man-to-man.
The new players in 2011-12 were Richardson, Quinton Chievous, Wes Washpun, Yemi Makanjuola and JUCO transfer Dwight Miller. Jarnell Stokes became the sixth newbie when the NCAA allowed him to join the class at mid-term. The new players for 2014-15 are Willie Carmichael, Jabari McGhee, Tariq Owens, Detrick Mostella, JUCOs Kevin Punter and Devon Baulkman, plus Memphis transfer Dominic Woodson and IUPUI transfer Ian Chiles. Liberty transfer Braxton Bonds could bump the total to nine if the NCAA grants his petition for immediate eligibility.
Several of the 2011-12 returnees found themselves filling new roles. Trae Golden, Jeronne Maymon and Jordan McRae advanced from little-used reserves to key starters. Similarly, several 2014-15 returnees find themselves filling new roles. Richardson has switched from small forward to point guard; Armani Moore and Derek Reese have transitioned from reserve wings to starting forwards.
Struggling with so much newness, the 2011-12 Vols stumbled to an 8-10 start. The 2014-15 Vols, 2-3 heading into Saturday’s visit from Kansas State, may be headed for another plodding start this season.
“I see similarities,” Richardson conceded, smiling as he added: “But I see similarities that we’re going to prove a lot of people wrong this year, too.”
The 2011-12 Vols certainly succeeded in that endeavor. Given up for dead after the 8-10 start, they rallied to win 11 of their last 16 games to finish 19-15 overall and 10-6 in SEC play, just missing an NCAA Tournament bid.
Richardson believes a similar turnaround is coming for the 2014-15 Vols … and soon.
“We just have to keep plugging away, just like we have been,” he said.
So, what makes him think this new-look team can jell faster than the new-look 2011-12 team did?
“Just our playing style, how much we pressure people on defense,” Richardson replied. “We turn people over a lot. A lot of teams don’t like that.”
Another factor could be buy-in. Cuonzo Martin thought his 2011-12 team needed half a season before it truly embraced his emphasis on shot selection and tenacious defense. The 2014-15 Vols, by comparison, insist they already are incorporating Tyndall’s emphasis on taxing opponents with a fast pace and full-court pressure.
“I feel like everybody’s buying in to what he’s trying to do here,” junior Armani Moore said. “We don’t have a lot of guys trying to go out on the court and do their own thing. I don’t think we’ve got a lot of selfish guys at all. Everybody is trying to do what he wants us to do, and I feel like we’ll end up turning into a really good team.”
The head coach believes he already sees that buy-in beginning to pay dividends.
“Absolutely,” Tyndall said. “You could tell in the Santa Clara game; we wore them down late in the second half. Even in the Kansas game (a 15-point loss) we didn’t finish the game but our press and our style of play wore on them when we made our 13-1 run in the second half.”
The obvious question: If the Vols already embraced the system, why have they lost three of their first five games?
“I do think we’re learning our system, and our style of play will be effective,” Tyndall said. “But it’s a lot of newcomers trying to learn on the fly.”
One of those newcomers sees evidence that the new-look Vols are gradually growing more familiar with one another and with the Tyndall system.
“We’ve still got a long way to go,” Punter said, “but we’re getting it right now. We’re going to continue to get it. We’re going to be fine. We’ve just got to keep trusting the process.”
GAME NOTES: Through its first five games Tennessee is averaging 26.2 fouls per contest, most among the NCAA’s 344 major-college programs. Tyndall’s response: “I don’t know if we’ll be quite as aggressive in our press to try to eliminate some of that fouling.” … Tennessee ranks 226th in scoring (65.8 points per game), 245th in scoring defense (69.8 points per game), 257th in scoring margin (-4.0 per game), 163rd in rebound margin (plus-2 per game), 331st in assists per game (8.8), 104th in steals (7.2 per game), 302nd in assist/turnover margin (0.69-1), 173rd in field-goal percentage (43.6), 237th in field-goal percentage defense (43.9) and 311th in free-throw percentage (61.8)…. One Kansas State player should be quite familiar to Vol fans – Stephen Hurt. Tennessee tried hard to recruit the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Murfreesboro native out of Northwest Florida State Junior College last spring but lost him to K-State. Slowed by health problems, he has started just three of KSU’s first seven games, averaging 6.0 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 54.8 percent (17 of 31) from the field and 63.6 percent (7 of 11) from the foul line…. Saturday’s game tips off at 3:15 with television coverage by ESPN2.