KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee still has a confident men’s basketball team.
Senior point guard Melvin Goins claims that’s the case, anyway.
“Yeah, we’re confident,” Goins said after Monday’s practice. “We took a couple of bumps on the head, but we came back to practice to get it right. I feel confident about our team right now.”
The Volunteers, who plummeted from No. 7 to No. 19 in this week’s Associated Press poll, could use that confidence tonight against Southern California.
UT (7-2), which has beaten top-10 Villanova and Pittsburgh away from home this season, has lost consecutive games to mid-majors with mediocre records heading into tonight’s game with the Trojans (6-5), who obliterated them last season in Los Angeles.
“To me, that game felt like it was 10 minutes long,” UT senior center Brian Williams said. “We were out there for five days, prepared well, and as soon as the tipoff started, they went up 20 points. It was like it was handed to them. They beat us in every aspect of the game.
“I remember that. I know what they’re capable of.”
But the Vols also know that they’re capable of.
“I think we’re just mad at what happened last week,” junior guard Cameron Tatum said. “I don’t really think it’s a loss of confidence; guys are just disappointed, more so. We’re disappointed in our performance, that we didn’t perform as well as we performed in the last few games.
“It’s step-up time from everybody across the board. Everybody. It’s time.”
Williams said the Vols “haven’t put offense and defense on the same page in a while.”
“But when we do, you can see that we can beat the best teams in the country,” Williams said. “We’re just working as a unit to be on the same page. I don’t think nobody’s panicking. Of course we’re frustrated that we lost two games, but we’re ready to play the next one.
“We’re mad. It ain’t like people beat us. I mean, give credit to the opponents. They did beat us. But we definitely did a lot to lose them games. We know what we need to do to fix it, and we’ve been trying to fix it these past couple of games.”
Coach Bruce Pearl, like his players, wants to see those corrections on the court tonight. And without them, he said they won’t beat a Southern Cal team that is “better” than Oakland and Charlotte.
The Trojans, directed by former Vols coach Kevin O’Neill, nearly beat third-ranked Kansas on the road Saturday afternoon.
“Kevin O’Neill does a great job. He’s a terrific coach, as you would expect from his days here at Tennessee,” Pearl said. “I know he was always known as a great defensive coach. I can’t comment on how much he’s improved offensively, because I really don’t remember his Tennessee teams very well, but you don’t coach in the NBA and the Toronto Raptors without figuring out that one of the things about that league is everybody plays great defense, so you better have some pretty good offense.
“I think the stuff that Kevin runs is good. It is very well thought out. It suits his personnel. It’s hard to guard, and the only reason why they may not be as high scoring is because they like to control tempo, and I think he’s got so much confidence in their half-court offense and half-court defense that he doesn’t want to risk the turnovers. And the advantage he has is playing with that frontline and knowing that if he gets all five guys back defensively, he’s going to be hard to score on.
“Transition is the best way we score — it always has been — and it is hard to get transition baskets against them because they don’t send very many guys. They’ll send two guys to the offensive boards, two or three, and they get back very well.”
The Vols have struggled immensely to score out of their half-court sets since early in the second half against Oakland. They have made just two of their last 27 3-point shots.
“It goes back to technique, watching how we set up and everything,” said junior guard Scotty Hopson, whose offensive struggles have been a major factor in the team’s losses. “Everybody has to take accountability with those shots. If you’re going to take them, step up and make them.
“I put a lot of that on myself. I’ve got to step up and make them, starting tomorrow against a very tough, physical team that plays hard and knuckles down on the defensive end.
“But if we come out aggressively and with confidence, we’ll be fine.”
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesruckerCTFP or Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.