Tennessee fan Bill Phillips, who operates a UT blog, offered to provide a preview of his team in exchange for our views on the Cards in preparation for Thursday night’s NCAA game. Here’s his assessment of the Volunteers:
The Tennessee Vols had a rough few years under Buzz Peterson. He seemed to take just that, the Ã¢â‚¬Å“buzzÃ¢â‚¬Â out of Tennessee basketball and fans just waited until football season. A proven winner in Bruce Pearl was then hired. Pearl surprised the nation in his first year with the Vols going an astounding 22-8, including a SEC East title.
Pearl surprised everybody again the next year, not just because of his on-court performance, but his body painting for the Lady Vols game. Last season the Vols made it to the Sweet Sixteen where they lost to Ohio State. The team’s 24 victories were the third most in the program’s history.
That leads us to this season, where Pearl coached the Vols to their first outright SEC Regular Season Championship in 41 years. The Vols are 4-1 against the remaining Sweet Sixteen teams, with wins over Memphis, Western Kentucky, Xavier, and West Virginia. The loss was to Texas.
The Vols go about eight or nine players deep. They like to run and score, averaging 82.5 points this season. Wayne Chism has lately provided an inside presence that wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t there earlier in the season. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s scored 16 points in both tournament games to go along with 12 total rebounds.
Tennessee also gets solid forward play from sophomore Duke Crews and freshman Brian Williams. However, the starter is Tyler Smith, who by many is looked at as the most important part for the Vols. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in tournament games. He brings the team together, and makes the big play when itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s needed. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s had game winning shots in the Memphis game and Ole Miss; also, he had a key block in this weekendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Butler game.
The Vols have two fantastic guards in Jajuan Smith and Chris Lofton. Both seniors, together they average 30 points per game. Jajuan, a former walk-on, has had his best season yet hitting 38% of his three pointers. Lofton, the SECÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s leading three-point shooter, has had an up and down year after a rocky start. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s yet to have a big game in the tournament and is suffering from a minor leg injury.
The point guard position has been a toss-up all year, as Pearl juggled senior Jordan Howell and sophomore Ramar Smith as starters. Howell has had a rough senior year, including a recent slump where he has hit just 4-of-40 from the field. JP Prince has recently seen time at this position, including his first start against Butler. Pearl has not yet named his starter at point guard, but it expected that time will be split between JP Prince and Ramar Smith.
Tennessee runs a full-court press, under PearlÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“controlled chaosÃ¢â‚¬Â type of defense. Most of the time, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll see a quick corner trap, but after the second pass will back off. The Vols force turnovers and take teams out of their rhythm. It has been described as a defense that makes you work the full 40 minutes and wears teams down,
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Louisville is rated sixth in Ken Pomeroy’s latest power ratings behind Kansas, UCLA, Wisconsin (?), Memphis and North Carolina. He picks U of L over 13th ranked Tennessee, 73-71.