Vols v. Bucks, Part Three
By Jay Johnson aka Vollaw
Ron Lewis is an evil man. Since he will not be playing Saturday, that
really has nothing to do with this preview. As a Tennessee fan, well,
I feel like it just had to be said. Now, on with the preview.
On February 26, 1994, I was sitting in 24,500 seat Thompson Boling
Arena in Knoxville watching Tennessee lose to South Carolina in front
of about 27 people. Actually there were about 4,500 people, but it
SEEMED like 27 people. No atmosphere. No excitement. Watching a
terrible basketball team on its way to another loss in what would
become a 5-22 season. I reflected on my life as a Tennessee
basketball fan. Although The University of Tennessee is known
primarily as a football school, I have always been a huge basketball
fan. I grew up during the Ray Mears and Don DeVoe years, years in
which the Vols played in front of sellout crowds at Stokely Athletics
Center. Tennessee was, for the most part, a solid program that
enjoyed loyal fan support.
Then I enrolled in school in 1989, the same year Wade Houston was
hired to replace DeVoe. And the losing began.
I was a student in
Knoxville for seven years, during which time I saw Tennessee play in
zero NCAA tournaments. I remember wondering whether or not Tennessee
would ever actually have a good basketball team again.
Thank God for Bruce Pearl. He has brought enthusiasm and excitement
to Tennessee Basketball that has been lacking since those
aforementioned Mears and DeVoe teams.
Pearl plays a very exciting,
helter-skelter brand of basketball. He runs a version of the flex
offense that he learned from Tom Davis while at Iowa. He loves for
his kids to shoot the three. Everyone that will play Saturday can put it
up from behind the line. Tennessee will press often, but probably not
quite as much as they did last year. The Vols have more scorers this
year, so they do not have to rely on the press as much to generate
offense. The Vols score an average of 86.3 points per game, while
giving up 68.2. They will play primarily man-to-man defense and are
forcing 20 plus turnovers per game. They are very good defensively
on inbounds plays teams usually have to burn one to two timeouts a
game because they cannot inbound the ball.
So far this year the Vols own wins over West Virginia, Xavier,
Gonzaga, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. Their lone loss was a neutral site
game against Texas. The Vols are decent from the line, shooting
freebies at a 66% clip. That percentage is aided by Lofton and JaJuan
Smith, who are both 85% shooters. Chism, on the other hand, shoots
an abysmal 37%. Foul shooting has been a weakness at times this
year, but the Vols have generally shot them well down the stretch.
The Vols' probable starters are:
PG 15 Jordan Howell 6'3" Auburn, AL 7.8 ppg; 1.4 reb.
G 2 JaJuan Smith 6'2" Cleveland, TN 14.8 ppg; 3.1 reb.
G 5 Chris Lofton 6'2" Maysville, KY 13.4 ppg; 3.3 reb.
F 4 Wayne Chism 6'9" Bolivar, TN 9.1 ppg; 5.9 reb.
F 1 Tyler Smith 6'7" Pulaski, TN 13.4 ppg; 5.8 reb.
The Vols primarily use a nine man rotation, with the following players
coming off the bench:
F 34 Ryan Childress 6'9" Cincinnati, OH 4.1 ppg;
G 12 Ramar Smith 6'2" Mt. Clemons, MI 8.8 ppg; 2.1
G 30 J. P. Prince 6'7" Memphis, TN 11.3 ppg;
C 33 Brian Williams 6'10" Bronx, NY 3.8 ppg; 4.9
Howell and R. Smith share the point guard duties and complement each
other well. Howell is a steady player who does not turn the ball over
very often. He often is a calming influence on the team and has
really stepped up his level of play this year. He is shooting 44%
from behind the arc and has a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. He is not a great defender against quicker guards, but his defense has
improved with each game.
Ramar Smith is the slasher who is a fearless penetrator. He loves to
take the ball to the hole. He is not scoring a ton of points, but
Tennessee's best runs are usually when he is on the court. Although
he is a backup, he plays roughly the same number of minutes as Howell.
He has really improved his foul shooting during the past month,
rebounding from an early 0-12 game to shoot a respectable 69% for the
Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith are outstanding, as most of you will
remember from last year. JaJuan Smith came to Tennessee as a walk-on. The only scholarship offers he received were from junior colleges
and small schools. He is an explosive scorer, superb defensive
player, and very good passer. He has long arms for his size and
causes havoc when Tennessee presses. As good as Tyler Smith and
Chris Lofton are, JaJuan Smith is the guy that makes things click for
Tennessee. When he plays well, Tennessee can play with anyone.
Smith is an emotional player who sometimes gets out of control. I
would compare him at times with Manny Ramirez, ("That's just JaJuan
being JaJuan") because he'll do things on the court that make you
scratch your head.
Lofton is a great all-around player, but he has been battling a
season-long shooting slump. He is, however, showing signs of coming
around. He scores in bunches he had 8 points in a three minute span
against Vandy. His form looks good now. He is way overdue to light
someone up for 30; Vols fans would love to see him break out against
Ohio State. He is a super kid who has not let the shooting slump
negatively effect the other aspects of his game. He was largely
responsible for Vanderbilt star Shan Foster's poor shooting
performance on Thursday.
J. P. Prince is a transfer from Arizona. He was not eligible until
the Winter semester, making his first big splash in Tennessee's win at
Xavier (20 pts on 9-14 shooting ). He is not a great outside shooter
but loves to get to the rim. He is a very good leaper and will post
up at times. He has long arms and is very effective when the Vols
Josh Tabb is the only other player that I could see getting meaningful
minutes against Ohio State. He has been the "odd man out" with the
additions of Prince and Tyler Smith. He is a very good defensive
player but is limited offensively.
Tyler Smith made first team All- Big 10 as a freshman at Iowa. He
transferred to Tennessee to be near his ailing father and was granted
immediate eligibility at Tennessee. This kid has NBA small forward
written all over him. He can leap out of the gym, post up, shoot the
three, take it to the hole and play great defense. His only weakness
seems to be his jump shot, but calling his jump shot a "weakness" is a
stretch. He is at least adequate from long range, but opposing
defenses would rather see him take jumpers than drive to the rim. He
seems very comfortable with the team, and his teammates have really
embraced him. If Tennessee needed him to, he could easily average 20
per night. I would like to see him look to score more. He hit the
game winner against Ole Miss on a night where he scored 21.
Wayne Chism is really playing well right now. He had an 18 point, 18
rebound game against Vandy, where he outplayed their touted freshman,
A. J. Ogilvy. He is a gifted talent who sometimes allows himself to
get lost on the court. He has shown signs of being a great defensive
player, but loses focus at times. Chism can hit the 3, but at times
he takes horrible shots. The Vols are counting on him to be more of
a force on the glass, with the solid effort against Vandy. He is by
far the Vols' best interior efender.
Ryan Childress has been a little disappointing this year. Towards the
end of last year he was really making big shots, especially during the
NCAA Tourney. He has not shot the ball well this year. He is a big,
tough guy who plays with a nasty streak. He will mix it up with
anyone, but is somewhat limited with his back to the basket. He does
get his share of garbage points and has to be respected from long
Brian Williams is a great story. He has only played organized
basketball for 3 years or so. He was recruited somewhat as a project.
He has lost 100 lbs or so to get into basketball shape. He had one
very good game against Western Kentucky, but has not made much of an
offensive splash since. He's not very athletic, but he does take up a
lot of room when he is in the game. In general he gives the Vols
pretty good minutes, which has been crucial during Duke Crews' injury.
Thompson-Boling Arena is massive. For years it was like playing your
home games in a funeral home. Most games were played in front of less
than half-capacity crowds. All of that has changed. All of the
orange seats have been replaced by black seats. Three levels of
suites have been added. The concourses have been widened. The
reduced seating capacity now stands at 21,500. Saturday will be my
first look at the finished result, but I hear the changes are
beautiful. More importantly, fans are flocking to the building. It
will be full, it will be loud, and Ron Lewis will not be allowed on
the court. This is the game that has been on the minds of Tennessee
fans for some time.
Tennessee on paper is the better team. Unless last year's losses play
on the Vols' psyche, Tennessee should win the game. Ohio State may
benefit from the fact that the Vols played Vanderbilt Thursday night,
but I doubt fatigue will play a factor at this point in the season.
The Vols depth and home court advantage will be too much for the Bucks
Tennessee 85, Ohio State 72.
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