published Friday, December 20th, 2013

Greeson: Mocs', Vols' losses show very different things

On Wednesday, the University of Tennessee and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga lost men's basketball games. They lost them by differing margins and in differing manners. But all losses are not created equally.

UTC lost by 15 on the road at UAB, and coach Will Wade sounded somewhat pleased. And he should be.

UT lost at home by seven to a very pedestrian North Carolina State team, and Volunteers coach Cuonzo Martin sounded deflated. And The Conz should be. Or he should be outraged. Or maybe even worried about his employment.

The Mocs went against a better and bigger team without their best player. As Wade said, the Mocs competed and played hard. That's a positive.

Rebuilding a proud program is not completely measured in the standings. It can be measured in improvement. It can be measured in energy and effort. UTC, despite a tough trip to the Far West that was filled with growing pains and despite a disappointing visit to Northern Kentucky, played hard at UAB, and in the infancy of Wade's tenure, that has to count for something.

The Vols? The early-season rust that has eroded each of The Conz's previous two seasons in Knoxville is as thick and orange as ever with this bunch. Tennessee is 6-4 despite starting one of the more experienced groups in the land -- three seniors and two juniors make up the starting five -- and the injuries that led to excuse-making last year have healed.

Programs that are floundering make the same mistakes in the same fashions time and again. The Vols' consistently confounding starts in each of Martin's three seasons in Knoxville have left the fans perplexed. Slow starts and difficult Decembers have made March painful for the Vols and pushed Martin and Co. into a perplexing place that could mean the coach needs an NCAA tournament bid to get a fourth year.

UTC fans should feel happy that Wade juggled his defensive sets but not his mentality. It is a fool's folly to embrace the "We do what we do" mentality in every case regardless of the situation and especially when "what we do" obviously is a recipe for disaster against a particular foe. Adjustments can be a clear and telling indicator of a coach's grasp of his team, the situation and the opponent. Change for change's sake is rarely a wise plan, but Wade added wrinkles that helped cover his team's shortcomings and maximize the Mocs' chance at the upset. That's good coaching.

The Vols came out flat -- in a home game against a big-name foe. They relied on the 3-pointer (3-of-24, really? No, scratch that: They became dependent, almost addicted, to the 3). They were in a 37-20 halftime hole. They were unprepared. That's not-so-good coaching.

The Vols have backed themselves into a pressure-packed corner, starting 6-4 against an OK-at-best schedule, and looking at the real possibility that they may have to win 16 or 17 of their final 21 games to have a tournament-worthy resume, especially since the SEC is going to be just an OK conference in terms of RPI.

And another March without an NCAA bid would mean bad things for The Conz.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and follow him on Twitter @jgreesontfp, and listen to him and David Paschall on "Press Row" weekdays 3-6 p.m. on ESPN 105.1 FM and in real time on timesfreepress.com.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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