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Men's Basketball
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; 3.1 reb.
G 12 Ramar Smith 6'2" Mt. Clemons, MI 8.8 ppg; 2.1 reb.
G 30 J. P. Prince 6'7" Memphis, TN 11.3 ppg; 3.9 reb.
C 33 Brian Williams 6'10" Bronx, NY 3.8 ppg; 4.9 reb.

Point Guards:

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
year.

Shooting Guards

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 press. 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.

The Bigs

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 range. 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.

The Atmosphere:

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.

The Prediction:

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 to overcome.

Tennessee 85, Ohio State 72.

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