Tennessee lost at home to Austin Peay earlier this season but the Volunteer team we've seen in SEC play in the past week is clearly a different squad. UT upset Florida and then played Mississippi Stat to a four-point game on the road last night.
"I think the biggest change has been they're playing more complete games," UT radio voice Bob Kessling said on today's "Leach Report" radio show. "Used to be, they'd play one half well. I think the change in the starting lineup (inserted Josh Richardson and Renaldo Woolridge) has helped. Both are more concerned with defense and it's helped Tennessee set a good tone."
In those two league games, opponents are hitting just 40 percent of their field attempts against the Vols and only 32 percent of their three's.
"I think the last two or three games, the players have really bought into it. If they don't play defense," Kessling said, "they don't' play."
One player who has blossomed under first-year coach Cuonzo Martin is power forward Jeronne Maymon. The transfer from Marquette played only sparingly last season in Bruce Pearl's system but Maymon is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds per game this season. And he's become a strong defensive presence as well.
"He's like a defensive end in there. Strongest guy on the team, benches 300 pounds. He's not flashy. Gets around the basket, goes and gets rebounds. As long as he stays out of foul trouble, he's got a chance to be pretty productive," noted Kessling.
"He's more like a quarterback for us defensively," Martin said on a recent SEC coaches teleconference.
"This is not for everybody, coming to Kentucky."
That statement from John Calipari is not new but he's had a chance to re-emphasize in the wake of Terrence Jones' post-Indiana struggles, which are hopefully behind now.
"Whether you're the coach or the player, there is so much passion around this program that your good stuff is overdone and so is your bad stuff," Calipari said on a recent pregame interview on the UK IMG radio network. "I'll give you an example. Terrence Jones. He has a bad couple of weeks. Doesn't mean he's a bad player, he just had a bad couple of weeks--and had his finger pop out of its socket," said Calipari. "Marquis Teague. He's playing 30 minutes a game for the second-ranked team in the country. He's averaging four-and-a-half assists to three turnovers. He needs to pass it a little more but he's 16 games into a college career, playing on this stage. He's used to shooting it more. We're trying to say 'a few more passes means a few more assists which means six assists to three turnovers'. Two-to-one is good in anybody's book. I'm just telling the guys to just worry about getting better. This isn't football where one loss knocks you out of the national championship.
"By the end of the year, what we did in New Jersey was like winning the national title. Those were three of the best five teams in the country and winning that shows what you can do when you come together," he added.
It may have been hard for Kentucky fans--or any of Florida's other SEC foes--to root for Tim Tebow when he was a Gator. Now, it's a different story and I'm guessing a lot of you are like me and really enjoying watching Tebow lead the Denver Broncos into the second round of the NFL playoffs.
Tebow was anything but an underdog at Florida but he's in that role now, with so many doubters out there. I'm not sure he's the long term answer to Denver's QB situation but it's clear that Tebow is a good leader and a winner.
Former UK and NFL star Jeff Van Note is a fan, too.
"His ability to lead his team and makes plays and inspire is fun to watch," Van Note said on "The Leach Report" radio show earlier this week. "He has the intangibles that people who have played football recognize."