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Martin focused on Mississippi State

It’s becoming more and more difficult to suggest anyone could avoid the negativity encircling the Tennessee men’s basketball program at the moment, and third-year Vols coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t deny the existence of those bad vibes.

Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin (News Sentinel photo)

Martin said Monday that he doesn’t “waste time or energy” worrying about the situation, though, and he tells his players to do the same thing.

“We talk about it,” Martin said during his weekly Monday afternoon press conference. “We talked about it in July — not reading and dealing with stuff like that — before the season even started because, obviously, we know it gets to this point. So as a coach, it’s just things we always talk about. The young guys, they read what they want to read, they see stuff, they’re on campus. That’s part of it. You control as much of it as you can control as a coach and make your guys understand, consume yourself with your teammates and the task at hand. Next game, learn from the last game win or lose.

“That’s all you can do as a coach. But we talk about that stuff all the time.”

As for his personal feelings at the moment, Martin said he remains focused only on Tennessee’s Wednesday game at Mississippi State.

The Vols (16-11, 7-7 SEC) seem to be stuck squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble for a third consecutive season, and a loss to the Bulldogs (13-14, 3-11) would throw a large wrench into their chances.

“I don’t waste time and energy on (negativity),” Martin said. “It’s just ... next game presents itself, move forward. Been doing it for years. For me, as a ball player and as a coach, I’ve been consumed with what I need to do for years. If you put the work in, everything else will take care of itself.

“Again, don’t have that kind of time and energy. Negativity, I don’t consume myself with it.”

Martin said he definitely believes the Vols are in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth — which has been a big goal for this team all season.

(UT photo)

It’s also been an expectation, though, from inside and outside the program.

“Our goal doesn’t change as far as making the NCAA Tournament. That doesn’t change,” Martin said. “I think there were some games we had an opportunity to win that we came up short in, but that goal doesn’t change at all.”

A question about the SEC’s seven-way tie for fourth place at the moment brought rare emotion from Martin. The coach chuckled a bit.

“Man, it’s something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in league play before,” he said. “But for us, our goal is to be on top when the smoke clears, that’s the bottom line. And, again, Mississippi State is the most important game on our schedule right now.”

As for his future, Martin said he remains in constant contact with Vols athletic director Dave Hart, but that they’ve never spoken about anything other than the team’s play on the court.

“I talk to Dave all the time,” Martin said. “The thing we talk about is just each particular game — and Dave does a good job, win or lose, texting or calling, just about the game. But other than that, not at all. We just talk about basketball.”

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