Tennessee likes to pose its players for pictures with sledgehammers. Its basketball slogan is “Forged in Tennessee. A Tougher Breed.”
Coach Cuonzo Martin, who poses for his media guide photo in front of a rack of weights, isn’t much for finesse.
His Volunteers will give Wichita State’s inexperienced big-man rotation its toughest test of the season in Saturday’s game at Intrust Bank Arena. Jarnell Stokes averages 14.9 points and 10 rebounds. Jeronne Maymon averages 10 points and 7.6 rebounds. Both are 6-foot-8, 260 pounds. The Volunteers out-rebound opponents by an average of more than 10 a game.
“We’re going to have to box out, play strong, play stronger than we have this season,” WSU forward Darius Carter said. “They’re a big, physical team.”
No. 12 WSU is 9-0 for a second straight season and needs one more win to set a program record for its best start. Tennessee (6-2) ended last season’s 9-0 start with a 69-60 win last season in Knoxville. To even the two-game series, the Shockers will need a consistent effort from Carter, Kadeem Coleby and Chadrack Lufile, their three post players. Lufile moved into the starting role with solid production (26 points, 15 rebounds) against Saint Louis and Oral Roberts.
Carter and Coleby, both in their first season playing in games for WSU, are searching for that consistency. Both are foul-prone, a common problem for newcomers. Carter didn’t provide as much scoring as expected before an encouraging second half against Oral Roberts. Coleby is working on his rebounding.
Stokes and Maymon aren’t one-dimensional bruisers. Stokes has eight assists in the past three games, most on the team. Maymon, a lefty, can bring the ball up court on fast breaks. Stokes averages 3.7 offensive rebounds for his career; Maymon 2.6. In a 64-49 win over Xavier, the Volunteers outscored their opponent 26-4 on second-chance points.
“They’re big, strong, athletic guys that have basketball skills,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We’re going to have to keep them off the backboards. They do a good job of getting their misses, as good a job as anybody I’ve coached against.”
Carter and Coleby both gave encouraging signs in the 71-58 win over Oral Roberts. Carter scored 12 points, most this season, and Coleby grabbed five rebounds in 15 minutes.
Carter made 4 of 7 shots on a variety of moves, including hook shot he often in junior college. At WSU, he needs to diversify his offense. Sometimes, he is better off to turn down a shot and let the offense work to get him a better shot.
“I’m just composing myself, getting more comfortable at this level,” Carter said. “I shot the hook shot a lot and I can’t rely on that much because it’s not really working. When you make a move, you have to have a counter move.”
Earning minutes as a Shocker big man starts with rebounding. Coleby is getting an education in the fundamentals of board work at WSU, where the coaches are more demanding than at previous stops.
“Every day I’m getting better and being in position and using the right techniques to get the ball,” he said. “All of it is technique. It’s about 100-percent effort. I’m working on doing my work early, hitting them across the chest and going and getting it.”
The Shockers own an equally strong reputation for rebounding, as Martin knows from his three seasons in the Missouri Valley Conference at Missouri State.
“They rebound and they have a lot of size for that level,” Martin said. “That’s how they impose their will on teams at that level. You’ve got to be physical to compete against them. If you’re not physical, it’s going to be a long night.”