Jarnell Stokes


Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes foregoes senior season to enter NBA Draft

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Tennessee junior forward Jarnell Stokes made official the news many expected to hear Friday afternoon, announcing his decision to enter the 2014 NBA Draft. Stokes was a first team All-SEC selection this past season, as he posted averages of 15.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.

“First of all, I think Jarnell is going to go down as one of the best big men to ever play at Tennessee – certainly one of the most dominant rebounders ever to wear the orange,” Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin said in the release. “I hope our fans will celebrate his career, because the growth and development he’s shown over the past three years has really been impressive, and I’m proud of the player and man he’s become.”

Of the 87 games in which Stokes played at Tennessee he started 84, and as a junior he posted 22 double-doubles. Stokes failed to reach double figures in scoring just five times this past season, with the last such effort coming in a win over Arkansas on January 22. According to Draft Express, Stokes is projected to be a second round draft pick.

Tennessee loses both Stokes and Jeronne Maymon (graduation) from this year’s Sweet 16 team, with incoming freshmen Phil Cofer and C.J. Turman joining Rawane Ndiaye in Martin’s interior rotation.

No. 11 Tennessee overpowers No. 14 Mercer


No. 14 seed Mercer had cinderella written all over them.

They were a senior-laden team led by a fiery coach bursting with personality and a bench that featured at least one guy that can flat out dance.

They were fun, they were easy to root for, and they were a No. 14 seed.

But on Sunday, we found out why they were a No. 14 seed, as Jarnell Stokes almost outrebounded the entire Bears roster in an 83-63 win for No. 11 Tennessee. He finished with 18 boards to add to 17 points and five assists while Mercer grabbed 19 rebounds as a team. The Bears cut the lead to single digits on a couple of different occasions in the second half, but the outcome was never really in doubt.

The Vols are on their way to the Sweet 16 where they will take on No. 2 Michigan in Indianapolis on Friday night.

The best player on the floor for Tennessee was Josh Richardson, who continued his terrific play this tournament by dropping 26 points on 9-for-13 shooting. He’s now averaged 19.3 points in Tennessee’s three tournament games, and is 20-for-28 from the floor since missing his first five shots against Iowa.

Tennessee is going to have their work cut out for them. The Wolverines are streaking right now and they’ll put Tennessee’s massive front line in tough spots defensively. Stokes or Jeronne Maymon will likely end up being forced to guard Glenn Robinson III, who is going to get drafted at some point to be an NBA small forward. The Vols will have a clear advantage in the paint, however, which likely means that whoever is able to take advantage of that mismatch will likely end up advancing.

It’s funny when you think about it.

Tennessee fans wanted Cuonzo Martin fired. Now he’s off to the Sweet 16 after winning a trio of games in the first week of the Big Dance.

Tennessee lands a come-from-behind OT win over Iowa in play-in game

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Jordan McRae led four scorers in double figures with 20 points and Jarnell Stokes added 18 points and 13 boards as No. 11 Tennessee overcame a horrendous start and a 12 point first half deficit to beat No. 11 Iowa in the final play-in game on Wednesday night, 78-65, in overtime.

The difference maker for the Vols was actually Josh Richardson, who finally sparked some life into Tennessee when he hit five straight shots in the second half. Richardson scored 13 of his 17 points in the final 15 minutes of regulation, a stretch when it looked like Iowa was getting ready to pull away. He also set up Antonio Barton for a three that gave the Vols the lead.

It was a huge win for head coach Cuonzo Martin, who has been under siege by Tennessee fans unhappy with the team’s performance. There was an online petition circulating to try and get Bruce Pearl hired again that accumulated 36,000 signatures. The angst of the good folks on Knoxville only grew worse when Pearl was hired by Auburn on Tuesday. Hopefully, this win can put some of that to rest.

Tennessee will advance to take on No. 6 UMass in the Round of 64, which is a game that the Vols can win. UMass has a ton of length and athleticism, but they don’t have the kind of bodies in the paint that Tennessee does. Contain star guard Chaz Williams, avoid turnovers and pound the ball into the paint and they’ll have a chance to play on Sunday.

Adam Woodbury led the way for Iowa with 16 points and eight boards as he hit Stokes with every post move that he had in his arsenal. Peter Jok added 10 points off the bench as well. Those two combined to shoot 12-for-16 from the floor. The rest of the Hawkeyes? They shot 28.6% from the field, which included a 3-for-15 night from Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa’s star guard. As a team, they missed their last eight shots and were outscored 14-1 in overtime, ending a season that saw Iowa go just 2-7 in games decided by five points or less and choke away a handful of big leads in marquee games.

Head coach Fran McCaffery got a solid dose of perspective on gameday, however. His son, Patrick, had surgery to remove a thyroid tumor in his neck. On the broadcast on TruTV, McCaffery said that the surgery was believed to be a success.

SEC Tournament: No. 1 Florida advances to title, holds UT to just five second half field goals

Billy Donovan

Florida coach Billy Donovan must have laid into his team at halftime. His Gators were losing to Tennessee by seven points, UF’s largest halftime deficit of the year, and his team was clearly not following the defensive gameplan he and coaching staff had put together for the semifinal contest. Over the next twenty minutes, though, UF, carefully heeding their second defensive tutorial, underwent a transformation, blowing up each of Tennessee’s offensive plays and holding the Vols to just one field goal for half of the second session. The close final score — 56-49 — isn’t indicative of how uncomfortable UF made Cuonzo Martin’s squad look.

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During the initial half, UT was driving the ball at the Gators, getting easy looks at the basket and scoring 1.08 points per possession. The SEC tournament is now defined by tweaks made by its coaches, and after UT made five layups to start the second session, Donovan unleashed a man press that trapped the sidelines, a move which immediately forced a turnover. Donovan next turned his gaze to Jarnell Stokes; the UT big had scored four field goals, physically beasting the Gator frontcourt until Donovan instructed his team to double on the touch, a move which took away the Vols interior. Clearly flustered and unable to assist from the post, Stokes didn’t make another shot from the field.

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The key, though, was Scottie Wilbekin’s defense on Jordan McRae. The wing was seven for 31 in the first two meetings, and since he takes the highest percentage of UT’s attempts, controlling McRae was crucial. He may have finished with 15 points, but Wilbekin managed to consistently have a hand impeding McRae’s vision, staying in front of the UT wing and forcing him to take off-balance shots. Even when Martin used Stokes as a distributor, letting the big flash to the elbow and hand-off to McRae, Antonio Barton, and Josh Richardson, the help supplied by the other four Gators turned each Vol away and forced them to retreat, reset, and then take a low-percentage shot.

Another impressive aspect of Donovan’s tweak was their man-to-man sagging the team displayed over the final twenty minutes. It further took away the paint, and when combined with UF’s help defense, UT’s scoring was locked down.

Recaps of this game will specifically mention the technical received by Jeronne Maymon and his subsequent ejection. Or they will focus on Florida’s overall offensive ineptitude (.91 PPP; Michael Frazier II and Dorian Finney-Smith were a combined two of eight). But the real story is the changes UF made during their break and then the eventual ransacking of every single UT offensive possession.

The Gators’ second half defensive efficiency rate was .52 PPP, a whopping rate that simply underscores Florida’s dominance, which is why this team, even when they can’t find the basket, is a threat to take the national title.

SEC Tournament: Tennessee rides stout defensive effort into semifinals

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Since losing to Texas A&M in overtime on February 27, Tennessee hasn’t trailed at all in five consecutive games. The fifth game was played in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament, with the Volunteers handling South Carolina 59-44 to set up a semifinal matchup with No. 1 Florida. Jarnell Stokes scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the way, with guard Jordan McRae adding 14 points.

While the opposition during this five-game run should be noted, with Missouri being the best team the Volunteers played during this stretch, Tennessee’s improved effort and execution on the defensive end should not be ignored. Tennessee allowed its opponent to shoot better than 40% from the field in just one of those five games (Mississippi State shot 42.9%), with South Carolina making just 27.1% of its attempts Friday afternoon.

Tennessee has the length and athleticism to keep teams out of lane, and should the opposition get inside the Volunteers do a good job of challenging those looks. South Carolina finished the game with 18 points in the paint but they couldn’t keep up with Tennessee, which scored 32 points with Stokes doing most of the damage.

How much has Tennessee improved defensively? That question will be answered Saturday, with their game against No. 1 Florida representing both a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity. SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin has run the show well for the Gators, who swept the regular season series. A key for Tennessee will be rebounding, as Florida grabbed nearly 44% of its missed shots in a 67-58 win on February 11 in Knoxville.

Tennessee has the look of an NCAA tournament team and they should hear their name called on Sunday, but there’s nothing wrong with making another statement (or two) along the way. After taking care of South Carolina, Cuonzo Martin’s team will have the opportunity to do so.

After wins over Virginia, at LSU, is Tennesse rounding the corner?

Jarnell Stokes, Madison Jones
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It wasn’t three weeks ago that we were all ready to write off Tennessee for good this season.

The Vols had just been pasted by a thoroughly average N.C. State at home, a second straight loss that dropped a team expected to compete for a top three finish in the SEC to 6-4 on the season. It wasn’t pretty in Knoxville, as concerns about Jeronne Maymon’s health and point guard play reared their ugly head.

This team had a front line made of up two plodding land warriors and lacked a playmaking leader that could handle the ball. They were going to end up being just another SEC team, a basketball team forgotten about at a football school.

But something funny has happened in the last 10 days. Someone lit a fire underneath the Vols.

In their last game before the New Year, Tennessee mollywhopped Virginia, winning 87-52 in Thompson-Boling Arena, and after laying siege to some poor, non-Division I program, the Vols whipped up on LSU in Baton Rouge on Tuesday night.

Might Cuonzo Martin’s club have turned the corner?

Before we start calling this team an SEC contender, let’s wait and see what they can do against the likes of Kentucky or Florida or Missouri, but for now, I think it’s safe to say that things are trending in the right direction.

What has changed?

For starters, Antonio Barton is finally shooting the ball well. He’s scored 14 points in three straight games and is shooting 11-for-18 from three during that stretched. And while Barton hasn’t developed into the playmaker Tennessee needed, Jordan McRae has done his best to step up of late. He’s averaging 5.0 assists in each of the last three games against Division I competition.

There are still limitations on this team. Their bigs are still on the small side. Maymon’s knees are still going to be a problem. Their point guard issues are not going to solve themselves.

But they not only picked up two wins they desperately needed, this group now has some confidence heading into the throes of league play.