In Cuonzo Martin's system, there are expectations for regular players, and then there are expectations for the team's lockdown defender.

Josh Richardson has learned that the hard way in his time at Tennessee.

An easy-going guy in any setting off the court, the junior UT guard has become one of the conference's marquee defenders on it. Being given the responsibility of shutting down the opponent's star scorer on any given night, though, doesn't correlate too well with Richardson's personality.

So Martin found a way to light a fire under his happy-go-lucky perimeter defender.

"Everybody knows I'm a goofy guy or whatever," Richardson said at Martin's weekly press conference Monday. "But I mean, (coach Martin) said I wasn't approaching the game as serious (as) I could be, because I kind of joke around in warm-ups or whatever like that.

"And I kind of took heed to it, so I sort of started approaching practice a lot more serious, approaching games a lot more serious and just keeping guys focused. Ever since I've been doing that, the results have been showing, so I feel like that was good advice he gave me."

Martin told Richardson to up his intensity on the court at the end of February, and since, the Vols have held their last three opponents to less than 46 points per game on 31 percent shooting.

The change the third-year coach has seen in a player who was already his best defensive stopper has trickled over onto his teammates.

"Now you see him in huddles saying certain things to certain guys and they respond to it," Martin said. "But probably he needed the reassurance from me as a coach that 'I can lead,' because he has it in him, and I think he's doing a great job with it."

Much of the Vols' defensive success as of late has to do with Richardson stifling two top guards. Pegged against Missouri's Jabari Brown and Auburn's Chris Denson — the conference's top two leading scorers — in the last two games, Richardson has been at his best. Both shot just 1-of-10 against the Vols.

The Edmond, Okla., native admitted he knew very well that he held Brown without a field goal until the game's final two minutes in Saturday's win over the Tigers.

"Yeah, I knew the whole time," Richardson said. "Every other play, I was just looking up at the scoreboard just trying to keep his number down."

Keeping his opponents locked up isn't the only thing Richardson takes pride in defensively.

"I started sensing that Jabari was frustrated," Richardson said. "I remember getting a travel call, and I remember him slamming the ball down. When I get that moment of seeing the guy I'm guarding get frustrated, that makes me want to play even harder.

"That's like smelling blood in the water for a shark. It just gets me going even more."

Martin has seen a huge change in the player who was already his best defender, but said he is now reaching "elite" status.

"Since the Mississippi State game," Martin said, "I think he's defending at an elite level. And I thought he was always a good defender and our defensive stopper, but now I think he's on pace to be an elite defender.

"When you can shut guys down – those types of scorers – it's not easy."

Considering Richardson's improvement from a marquee defender to what his coach describes as an "elite" stopper, there's no doubt in Martin's mind that the junior is in line for his first selection on the SEC all-defensive team — if not the conference's defensive player of the year award.

"I think that part is understood," Martin said of whether Richardson will be on the all-defensive team. "It's just a matter of whether or not he'll win it. I think that should be a given."