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.

Nigel Hayes’ comment on basketball brands hits on greater point

Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes (10) drives on Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Madison, Wis. Hayes had a team-high 21 points in Wisconsin's 79-68 win. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
AP Photo/Andy Manis
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Much is made about the ball when it comes to how the sport of basketball is played and rightfully so, as the ball is the most important piece of equipment. Different brands have different characteristics, and with college basketball programs being able to pick the ball they use for home games there are adjustments to be made during the season.

Wisconsin will play at No. 2 Maryland Saturday, meaning that in the days leading up to the game the Badgers needed to get used to the Under Armour basketball. The brand became a conversation point in the aftermath of Maryland’s win over No. 4 Iowa last month, with the Hawkeyes (while not blaming the ball for their loss) made note of the differences between the Under Armour ball and the Nike ball they use for their home games.

Thursday Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes offered up his observations on the basketball while also pointing out (albeit sarcastically) the goal of intercollegiate athletics.

“It’s definitely different,” Hayes said. “Personally, we don’t like it too much. I don’t like the Under Armour ball whatsoever. But that’s the way this amateur sports league is set up. We’re supposed to be having fun, but all the money is in these basketballs that colleges play with. But it’s an amateur sport, we’re just here for fun. It’s not really that serious. So I guess any ball should be OK.

“Maybe we should have a universal ball like the NBA. You don’t go to the Clippers’ stadium and play with a Nike and then go to Golden State and play with a Rawlings. But in this amateur sport of college, where money isn’t the goal — it’s the student education and experience that you get — we play with a million different basketballs.”

Hayes makes a good point here, and in regards to the NBA all hell would break loose under similar circumstances (remember the leather vs. microfiber composite controversy in 2006?). If these games are solely about fun and the college experience, wouldn’t having one ball used by all schools better fit that mission? This isn’t the biggest of deals when it comes to “amateur” athletics, as different basketball brands have been used for years.

But Hayes was able to take this situation and work it into the discussion of the goals of intercollegiate athletics. Is it about the experience? Or does the ability to profit, be it through a minor move such as using a particular ball or the more impactful step of moving from one conference to another, take precedence? Given the shifts that have occurred in college sports in recent years, it’s quite apparent that the search for additional revenue streams has won out.

Hayes did note that neither he nor his teammates would make excuses, saying that the team would simple “have to get used to” the unfamiliar basketball according to the Wisconsin State Journal. In the end, this was a good use of sarcasm by Hayes to make a greater point about the collegiate athletics machine he and his teammates are but minor parts of.

Marquette fan sends Providence money for missed free throw

Providence's Kris Dunn reacts to his shot during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Villanova, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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It goes without saying that sports can inspire some interesting promises, from players and coaches guaranteeing victory to fans making statements that hinge on the outcome of a particular game or play (see: tattoos celebrating a team’s triumphs before they’ve even won the game in question). For one Marquette fan, the need for Providence’s Kris Dunn to miss a free throw during Wednesday night’s game (which Marquette won in overtime) inspired him to make a promise that he intended to keep.

Jamey Schilling took the approach of yelling that he’d pay Dunn $10 if he missed the free throw. Sure enough Dunn missed the shot, and Schilling made good on his promise. But with players themselves unable to receive such funds due to NCAA rules, Schilling sent the check to the Providence athletic department.

Schilling’s gesture did not go unnoticed by Marquette either, as the school sent him a gift card to use in the Marquette Spirit Shop.

H/T For The Win