On Friday evening at 7 p.m. ET the Tennessee Volunteers men's basketball team will take on the Kennesaw State Owls of the Atlantic-Sun conference.
As the first regular season game of head coach Cuonzo Martin's second season with the Vols, he is not yet concerning himself with the perennial SEC powerhouses his team will have to face multiple times during the season. Instead, Martin is focused on improving the team after its 99-57 win against Victory University on Monday, and also preparing for the regular season tip-off against Kennesaw State.
Martin's team has many offensive threats including forwards Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Despite these offensive weapons on the team, Martin is, and always has been, more concerned with the defensive side of the basketball.
"We have to get better at the little things, running to the ball, jumping to the ball, hands up on closeouts (and) fighting through screens," Martin said.
With all of this focus being paid to the defensive side, the offense isn't lacking.
"We're a talented team," Martin remarked. "It doesn't matter the opponent. Let the scoreboard take care of itself. Do what you're supposed to do, and you don't have to look up. It's understood."
Going into the regular season, one of the biggest question marks is red shirt senior forward Maymon. In March, Maymon underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear. Fortunately, he seems to be recovering to full strength.
In his absence, red shirt freshman Quinton Chievous will be expected to step up and fill in for the talented big man.
"I'm really just trying to do everything my team and my coaching staff needs to get the win at the end of the day," Chievous said.
Ultimately the team will rely heavily on junior point guard Trae Golden at the beginning of the season to distribute the ball adequately and effectively. The point guard worked tirelessly over the off-season in the weight room and took part in private one-on-one practice sessions with former Tennessee standout and 2011 first round draft pick Tobias Harris. Golden is a veteran leader on this team and understands that most of the team's success will depend on his ability to make up for his mistakes on the floor last season.
As a team, the Vols have enjoyed the new experiences this particular off-season has brought. The team was able to establish a sense of camaraderie and unity on the trip to Italy over the summer. In addition, they got back into the weight room voluntarily. This all took place to ensure that this season does not end in the same manner as last year, with an early exit from the NIT tournament. In anticipation of the season, Chievous spelled out the players' emotions well.
"I think we're all really ready, (and) we're just excited to get up and down the court," he said.