The buzzards are circling Thompson-Boling Arena.
Saturday’s 67-41 loss at No. 6 Florida was the low point in Vols coach Cuonzo Martin’s three seasons on the Hill.
The Vols 41 points and 26.8 FG percentage were season lows for Martin’s team. The 41 points became the lowest point production against an SEC opponent for the past 15 seasons. They were an atrocious 1 for 19 from 3-point land.
When hired, Martin was a product of the mean streets of East St. Louis. His teams and players were supposed to be tough as nails, defensive minded and would take a rebound away from their mothers.
I don’t know where all that was in Gainesville. When warming up before the game, Tennessee’s D’Montre Edwards found the O’Connell Center rims to be softer than the ones at Thompson-Boling.
It was a close race to determine which was softer, Florida’s rims or the Vols players. They were beaten down the floor on a number of occasions, resulting in easy Gator points.
That should worry Martin most of all. No matter what the situation was, no Cuonzo Martin-coached team should ever come in second when it comes to getting back on defense.
It left the Vols 12-7 overall, 3-3 inside the SEC, a league that is clearly down from past years. It is ranked No. 6 in conference power rankings, just ahead of the American Conference.
In the NCAA’s RPI rankings, the Vols are No. 52. Florida is No. 6 and Kentucky No. 14. There are two SEC teams ranked in the AP’s Top 25. The Vols are 3-3 and headed nowhere.
“I thought Florida did a great job of defending,’’ Martin said after losing to Florida for the first time in four games. “They sped us up with the press.’’
You can bet the Bruce Pearl parrots are squawking. I don’t foresee AD Dave Hart replacing Martin with the more popular Pearl. But if this type play continues, all bets are off.
Pearl energizes his players, the fan base, community and state. Yes, he made a terrible error in judgment when he landed in NCAA purgatory.
When Pearl is allowed to return to coaching after a show-cause clearance, he will be the safest hire in college basketball. Preposterous, you scream? Pearl knows his next NCAA violation will be his last. He will be cleaner than Knox County’s Board of Health.
Everyone needs a second chance. He didn’t kill anyone. He got caught lying to NCAA investigators. That is a huge no-no. It wasn’t the cookout at his home with a recruit, it was the fact he tried to lie his way out of it. And if Pearl couldn’t identify an assistant coach and his own home in a picture the NCAA showed him, he deserved to go sit in the corner with a dunce hat on.
Before we put the cart before the horse, Martin deserves a chance to turn this season around. He has the best players he has fielded in his three years.
But becoming Florida’s 11th straight victim of the season is a bad sign.
“They’ve been throwing it in our face, how the last three games they had out-toughed us, that they’ve been more physical and I can’t lie, they have," said Florida center Patric Young. “They’d punched us and we didn’t respond the last couple of years. But today we were ready for whatever they threw at us.
“Today we threw the punch and they couldn’t take it."
Contact TSWA Hall of Famer Joe Biddle at email@example.com.