With Tennessee needing a strong finish to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive season, it’s certainly not a stretch to wonder if the pressure of the current climate is affecting Cuonzo Martin.
Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin (News Sentinel photo)
The Vols’ third-year basketball coach faced those inevitable questions during his weekly Monday press conference in Thompson-Boling Arena, and he insisted he hasn’t been focused on his future.
To hear Martin tell it, his only concern at the moment is preparing Tennessee (15-10, 6-6 SEC) for Tuesday’s 9 p.m. EST home game on ESPNU against Georgia (14-10, 8-4) in Thompson-Boling.
In other words, Martin said he isn’t bothered by the rising tide of discontent encircling him and his program at the moment.
“Not at all,” Martin said. “I just think as a coach, you’ve got to do your job. That’s the bottom line. You stay locked in on what you need to do to be successful. I’m constantly watching film, doing my job, whatever it takes for our team to be successful, putting forth the best game plan for our team to be successful.
“I think that’s what you do as a coach. You don’t consume yourself with the periphery or whatever pressures there are. I don’t think anybody or anything could put more pressure on me than myself.”
Longtime ESPN bracket analyst Joe Lunardi and others still have Tennessee projected — barely — to earn an NCAA Tournament berth, but the Vols squandered two good chances to help their resume last week by losing close games at home to Florida and at Missouri.
Martin said the Vols must focus forward, though, stopping to look at past games only as teaching moments for the stretch run — which starts with a tough Tuesday test against a Georgia team that struggled badly in the pre-SEC schedule but currently sits alone at third in the league.
“The one thing I always try to do that as a coach is not dwell on the past,” Martin said. “We watched film of the last game and walked through some things yesterday. When you’re talking about an 18-game season in league play, a lot of things happen. But you’ve got to try to focus on the next game — which is easier said than done, especially for young guys. But even for me as a coach, you watch film over and over again, figuring out ways you could have tweaked something or changed something, did something differently. But it’s part of it.
“But for our guys, it’s get over it as fast as you can, learn from it and keep moving forward.”
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