Tennessee (12-7, 4-3) hosts Auburn (10-10, 2-5) Saturday at 12 pm (TV: ESPN2). Donnie Tyndall spoke with the media Thursday afternoon before the Vols practiced in Thompson-Boling Arena. Here are a few notes from his media session and the open portions of Tennessee’s practice.
Tyndall on Pearl: Tennessee’s first year head coach was quick to address Pearl’s return to Knoxville. “Everything that coach Pearl did here – from winning games, to playing for championships, to going to the Elite Eight – all those things should and need to be recognized,” Tyndall said. “In fact, we sell a lot of those things in our recruiting. I think people will be excited to see him. I’m hopeful they’re cheering for us. I’m pretty sure that’ll be the case.
“We have a good relationship. We’re not close friends, but he’s a guy I’ve always respected and thought a lot of. He’s one of the better coaches in college basketball. He called me when I got the job and congratulated me. We have numerous mutual friends and acquaintances. He’s been good and has been very supportive. He never has a negative word to say, that’s for sure.
When asked about what reception he thought Pearl would get, Tyndall wasn’t shy. “I know this,” Tyndall said. “With all he accomplished, I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t get a great ovation. He certainly deserves one in my humble opinion.”
Tyndall on Auburn: “They can really score in bunches,” Tyndall said of Auburn. “They have some guys on the perimeter – Harrell, Canada and the transfer Mason – that can score in bunches. They’re very dangerous. When they get it going, they play with a swagger and freedom offensively that really scares you. Defensively, they’re going to press you. It may not be trap after trap, but they’re going to really try to create turnovers by denying the ball inbounds. In the half court, they play very solid man to man defense. I don’t expect it to be anything different than we’ve seen from other opponents. It’s just a tough league game against a tough team that’s very well coached.”
Reese’s Foul Problems: Derek Reese played just 19 minutes against Arkansas and went scoreless for the first time this year. He’s scored just five points on 2-7 shooting over the last two games. “It’s the second game in a row that he put himself in bad position defensively,” Tyndall said. “Against Texas A&M he didn’t work hard enough to get the post fronted. They threw it into the post repeatedly and they drew fouls or they were able to score the ball. It happened the other night. He was getting caught out of position which led to some ticky tack fouls. Derek’s been pretty good the last six or seven weeks, but the last two games…he’s got to have a better mindset in regard to where his positioning needs to be in our zone to avoid silly fouls.”
4-on-4, 15 seconds: If you watched the Arkansas game, you probably heard the announcers talk about how Tyndall wants to “slow the game down.” Though the Vols play fairly slow (they’re ranked 318th in adjusted tempo per KenPom.com), Tyndall unequivocally does not want that to forever be the case.
All year, the Vols have worked on pushing the tempo in practice – Thursday afternoon was no exception. The Vols worked on a full-court 4-on-4 drill with a 15 second shot clock. A lack of depth has limited some of that in games, but rest assured Tyndall doesn’t want to systematically slow the game down.
Tyndall Addresses Taking Over a Fractured Fanbase: “There are Coach Martin fans and there should be. There are Coach Pearl fans and there should be. But, at the end of the day, there are Tennessee fans. I think that they’re pulling for our team. I think they’re pulling for me as the coach. That’s all I wanted to do when I took over – unite everybody, get us all on the same page, if you will, and move forward. That’s no disrespect to Coach Pearl and all he accomplished or Coach Martin and all he accomplished. To grow your program, to continue to recruit well like we’re doing, and all those things, everyone has to be on board and I think that’s happening.”
Special Guests: Dave Hart was in attendance. He has been a frequent visitor to Tennessee’s basketball practices, especially since football season ended. Andrew Jones, Butch Jones’ youngest son, was also in attendance. He took in Tennessee’s practice with his basketball team from behind the bench.
NCAA in Hattiesburg: The NCAA has been in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, investigating Southern Miss this week. Thursday afternoon, Southern Miss released a statement announcing that Rasham Suarez and Jeremiah Eason, two players who were recruited to Southern Miss by Donnie Tyndall, had been ruled ineligible. Both players were former JUCO recruits.
“The NCAA has been investigating the academics of both players,” Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com wrote. “Suarez and Eason both came to Southern Miss from the College of Central Florida in the junior college ranks. The NCAA was in Hattiesburg earlier this week questioning both regarding the legitimacy of their academic work to qualify to play at Southern Mississippi.”
Shadell Millinghaus, another Tyndall recruit, was dismissed from the team in December and has been linked to the NCAA’s probe into Southern Miss. In addition to Millinghaus, the NCAA has been investigating how financial aid was dispersed to current Southern Miss players Matt Bingaya and Davon Hayes.