Tennessee Volunteers head coach Martin instructs his team as they take on the Ole Miss Rebels during the SEC men's NCAA basketball tournament in New Orleans

Tennessee’s balanced offensive makes them a different team

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Both Tennessee and Virginia had something to prove entering Monday’s non-conference clash in Knoxville.

The Volunteers and Cavaliers were both seen as underachieving teams with a final chance at a solid non-conference win — and a momentum boost — heading into conference play.

After the way Tennessee came out and thoroughly dominated Virginia on Monday, they should be very pleased heading into SEC play. The Volunteers held Virginia to 32 percent shooting and 16 percent shooting from the three-point line as they cruised to an 87-52 win.

But while the Tennessee defense was obviously impressive, head coach Cuonzo Martin has to be excited about the balanced offensive effort that the Volunteers had against Virginia. Earlier on Monday, I broke down Tennessee’s reliance on its top three players — Jarnell Stokes, Jeronne Maymon and Jordan McRae — on offense and how the Volunteers had struggled to find scoring elsewhere against marquee opponents.

In its last two losses against high-major programs, Maymon, McRae and Stokes combined for 43 of Tennessee’s 61 points in a loss to Wichita State and followed that up the next game with 48 of the team’s 58 points in another loss to North Carolina State. No other player on Tennessee’s roster had more than six points in either game.

That changed dramatically on Monday.

Josh Richardson (20 points) got the Vols going early, as the junior had a 15-point first half in which he confidently knocked in jumpers and moved well without the ball. After going scoreless in losses to Wichita State and North Carolina State, senior Antonio Barton put up 14 points on 5-for-6 six and 3-for-4 from the three-point line.

Even with freshman reserve guards Robert Hubbs III and Darius Thompson not giving much of an offensive boost, Tennessee was able to easily control the game against Virginia because their offense among the starting lineup was so balanced and tough to defend.

McRae (21 points) and Stokes (20 points) continued their solid production, but with the added bonus of Richardson and Barton knocking down shots, they won comfortably and made a usually solid Virginia defense look awful.

I don’t expect Tennessee to shoot nearly as well as they did on Monday every game out, but even if Richardson and Barton miss a few of those shots, Tennessee has to be happy with how confidently and aggressively their starting five played on both ends of the floor.

Tennessee thoroughly outplayed an opponent that had something to prove — on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes — and Martin has to like that heading into the SEC.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?