College Basketball Nation: Wayne Chism

Summer Buzz: Tennessee Volunteers

August, 5, 2010
For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject? Tennessee. Up next? Florida.

(Oh, and sorry for the late start this morning, folks. Yours truly caught a bad batch of something yesterday. Let's not get into detail.)

Remember when Tennessee was supposed to go away?

Tyler Smith was booted from the team. Melvin Goins, Brian Williams and Cameron Tatum were suspended, perhaps indefinitely. The Volunteers had hit that terrible midseason obstacle -- losing your best player -- from which most teams never recover. After New Year's Day, Tennessee was supposed to fade.

Yeah, that didn't happen. Instead, the Vols responded to the Jan. 1 Smith incident with a thrilling home upset against No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 10, handing the Jayhawks one of just three losses all season. Even then, though, it was hard to see how this Tennessee team -- without its best scorer and most important interior player -- was going to do much more than merely hang around for the rest of the college basketball season.

Well, UT did more than just hang around. It stayed in the thick of things until March, when, after beating the No. 2-seeded, Evan Turner-equipped Ohio State Buckeyes, it was just a handful of possessions away from taking Michigan State's spot in the Final Four in Indianapolis.

And how did Tennessee do it? Defense.

This isn't much of a mystery, but any discussion of the Volunteers from 2009-10 -- and how the 2010-11 version will live up -- starts and ends with defensive ability. Tennessee allowed 88.5 adjusted points per 100 possessions last season, which gave it the 11th-best defense in the country. By contrast, the Vols' offense was anemic: 108.9 points per 100 possessions wasn't even top-50 in the country. But it was more than enough to break away from opponents who flailed about when Tennessee put the defensive pressure on.

There is reason to believe the Vols won't be able to rely so heavily on their defensive chops in 2010-11. For one, there's Bruce Pearl's statistical history: 2009-10 was the best defensive team of Pearl's Tennessee career by a long shot. With the exception of that loaded 2007-08 team, which was ranked No. 22 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, the Volunteers have always been far more proficient on the offensive end.

There's also the loss of Tennessee's two best defensive players, J.P. Prince and Wayne Chism. Prince was the steal artist and lockdown perimeter defender, swiping 3.5 percent of his opponents' possessions and creating havoc for guards with his 6-foot-7 size. (The Sweet 16 game was one of the few times all season that Evan Turner looked like he met his match. Naturally, his line was still insane.)

Chism manned the paint. Without Smith, the Volunteers didn't have many bigs to fall back on, so Chism's performance as a defender -- leading his team in block percentage (5.7) while guarding each opponent's best big man and grabbing plenty of rebounds, too (21.5 defensive rebounding percentage) -- was a major reason why they could afford to keep so many combo-guard-forward types on the floor at one time.

Without those two players, the Vols will miss a little bit of offense. They'll miss a lot of defense.

You've already heard the good news, though. Pearl's teams don't need to be the best defensive team in the country. Last year's transformation was more from necessity than desire. The Volunteers have always thrived on offense. Which means the return of Scotty Hopson, a sophomore whose tempo-free offensive numbers (his offensive rating was a mere 96.6 last year, which isn't very good) belie his incredible talent. Hopson has had an impressive summer. He'll need to carry it into the season.

It will also be interesting to see what kind of contribution ESPNU 2010 No. 6 overall prospect Tobias Harris can make. His high school numbers are enticingly gaudy. A quick rundown from today's Buzz: "Here's what Harris managed in his final two seasons as the top prep product in the state of New York: Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year honors as a senior after averaging 25 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks, leading Half Hollow Hills West (Dix Hills, N.Y.) to the Class AA state championship game. As a junior, he averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds, leading Long Island Lutheran to a Class A state title."

I think it's safe to say Harris has offensive talent.

Throw in a couple of other athletic recruits -- Jordan McRae and Trae Golden -- as well as Brian Williams, who impressed in Tennessee's tournament run, and it's not hard to see the Vols reverting back to their high-flying offensive ways in short order.

Of course, it's always hard to predict what recruits will add or detract from a team's performance. Whatever the new batch of Volunteers does, though, it is easy to predict that Pearl will coach them very well. Last season was a testament to Pearl's tenure in Knoxville thus far. It showcased his ability to motivate players in the face of adversity, his willingness to change his tactics, and his unique tournament savvy.

Whether the Vols go back to their offensive ways or find a way to remain one of the country's best defensive teams -- or, hey, maybe both -- you can bet it will be by design.
To look at Durrell Summers' game log is to look at a player capable of anything. That's not always a compliment.

Summers can dominate a game, can score 30 points, can get to the rim and finish with high-flying dunks almost at will, can hit long threes and do all of the things that have made NBA scouts drool since Summers arrived in East Lansing, Mich. Summers can also completely disappear for large stretches of seemingly random games. He can settle for bad jump shots. He can frustrate his coach. He can make you think that maybe, despite all that talent, Summers might never put it together. Maybe he's just one of those guys.

No more. After four outstanding games in the NCAA tournament -- the latest of which came Sunday, when he scored 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting, including 4-of-6 from the arc -- Summers has officially made good on his prodigious talent. The Spartans are in the Final Four, and Durrell Summers is a major reason why.

Sunday's 70-69 win over Tennessee sends Michigan State to its second Final Four in as many years. It's Tom Izzo's sixth appearance in 12 years. But this year feels slightly different -- Michigan State wasn't its typically powerful self for much of the season, and it didn't have that typical Michigan State swagger entering the NCAA tournament. The Spartans were given a No. 5 seed; few complained.

Then Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas was lost to an achilles tendon injury in Michigan State's last-second win over Maryland, and the Spartans' fate was supposed to be sealed. If UNI didn't beat them, Ohio State would. This was not a Final Four team. This was, despite the name on the front of that new jersey, an underdog.

Oh, but it was, and Durrell Summers' emergence made it so. Consider Summers' last four games -- 14, 26, 19, and 21 points in each. Kalin Lucas' replacement, Korie Lucious, is a capable point guard but isn't nearly the scorer Lucas was. The Spartans needed perimeter scoring. They needed threes. Against Tennessee, an efficient game played at a high offensive level throughout, the Spartans couldn't afford to drop off the pace. Summers' shooting ensured they didn't.

Everything is magnified at the Final Four. Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green and Tom Izzo will receive plenty of plaudits in the next few days, as the Spartans prepare for their match up with fellow No. 5 seed Butler. But perhaps most deserving (other than Izzo, of course, because his consistent success is completely insane) will be Summers, who, after giving MSU fans three years' worth of tantalizing glimpses followed by disappointing disappearances, has finally made good.

A couple of other random observations from Michigan State's Elite Eight win:
  • The immediate consensus about this game is that it was extremely well-played on both ends of the floor, and the numbers bear that out: Both teams got points in very efficient fashion -- Michigan State scored 1.2 points per possession, Tennessee 1.19 -- but that had more to do with offensive excellent than defensive ugliness. Take a quick gander at the four factors: Both teams shot the ball well, both teams got to the free throw line at a marginal but not overwhelming, rate, and both teams committed minimal turnovers. There was very little to separate these two, efficiency-wise, and so the game came down to a handful of plays that Michigan State made and Tennessee didn't. That simple.
  • This is already an overworn cliche, but it bears repeating: The fact that Tennessee made it to its first Elite Eight after the New Year's Day arrest and eventual dismissal of Tyler Smith is truly remarkable. By all rights, the Volunteers could have looked at the situation, blamed Smith for being an idiot, realized their title hopes were essentially kaput, and packed in the rest of the season. (Like, say, North Carolina. Ahem.) But Tennessee didn't do that. They upset Kansas and Kentucky, stayed competitive in the SEC, got a No. 6 seed, and then made an unlikely but thoroughly impressive run through the NCAA tournament. For all the love Tom Izzo (deservedly) gets for his team's NCAA performances, Bruce Pearl's coaching job since he arrived at Tennessee is worth some serious consideration. He's been excellent. And 2009-10 was his best coaching job yet.
  • I'll miss Wayne Chism. The floppy headband, the at-a-whim three-point shots, the sneakily physical interior play -- all of it was awesome. Here's to four entertaining years of Chismball.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Maybe Kentucky has made all the jumpers it’s going to make this season.

But say this for the No. 2-ranked Wildcats: When they decide they’re going to guard you, good luck.

Kentucky held Tennessee scoreless in the final 6:10 of the first half and slugged its way to a 32-19 halftime lead in the first SEC tournament semifinal at Bridgestone Arena.

The Wildcats’ defense was suffocating, and the Vols didn’t get any easy looks. It was their lowest scoring half of the season. Making matters worse for Tennessee was that senior forward Wayne Chism only played 10 minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls.

Even off the court, Kentucky proved it can provide plenty of fireworks.

There were two different incidents on the bench in the first half. The first one came after freshman DeMarcus Cousins got mad and threw a towel during a timeout. Kentucky coach John Calipari stormed over to where he was sitting a few seconds later, got in his face and had a few choice words for him.

Just a couple of minutes later, it got even crazier. Freshman Daniel Orton lost his cool and started screaming at the Kentucky coaches. He then stormed off to the locker room (perhaps told to go) with a couple of Kentucky staff members in tow.

He was back a few seconds later, followed by assistant strength coach Scott Padgett, and slapped hands with Calipari.

Hey, call them Team Turmoil.

But, then, that’s what you get sometimes with freshmen. If the Wildcats keep playing defense like this, Calipari can probably live with some of the childishness.

Today in the SEC tournament

March, 13, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The coaches in this league bristle any time they hear it, but they’ve heard it often over the last two years.

The SEC just ain’t what it used to be when it comes to hoops.

That’s what happens when only three teams from the league make the NCAA Tournament, which was the case in 2009, and they manage a grand total of one win among them.

And let’s face it. When Kentucky’s down, the rest of the league is going to be accused of being down, whether it genuinely is or isn't.

This season, Kentucky has ascended back to the top of its Big Blue perch in the SEC thanks to John Calipari and his triumvirate of some of the most talented freshmen in the land.

The knock nationally on the league now is that it’s Kentucky and then everybody else.

Perhaps so, but Saturday’s SEC tournament semifinals should provide some riveting drama with more than a few compelling storylines. Here’s a look:

Game 1: Kentucky (30-2) vs. Tennessee (25-7), 1 p.m. ET

What’s at stake: Both teams are safely in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky’s a lock for a No. 1 seed, and Tennessee is likely a No. 4 seed. But a second straight win over the Wildcats could push the Vols as high as a No. 3 seed. Tennessee handed Kentucky one of its two losses this season back on Feb. 27 in Knoxville. The Wildcats would love to exact a little payback for that loss. It’s no secret these two coaches aren’t pen pals and have traded barbs in the past, particularly when Calipari was at Memphis. But Bruce Pearl has held his own on the court. He’s 3-3 against Calipari, and two of those wins came over Calipari-coached teams that were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country.

Scouting the game: Can either of these teams make a 3-pointer? Kentucky was 1-of-13 in its quarterfinal win over Alabama. Tennessee was 4-of-23 in its first-round win over LSU and a little better Friday in its quarterfinal win over Ole Miss. The Vols were 8-of-23 from 3-point range, although most of that was Cameron Tatum. He came off the bench to go 4-of-4 in the first half and keep Tennessee close. Everybody has been playing zone against Kentucky, including Tennessee in both of the earlier meetings this season. Kentucky freshman big man DeMarcus Cousins was a no-show Friday after getting into early foul trouble. It will be interesting to see if he got his bad game out of his system.

Wildcat to watch: Freshman point guard John Wall has been fabulous. For a guy who’s not a pure shooter, it’s uncanny how he can take over games. He has a sixth sense about him -- he knows when the Wildcats need him to go on one of his tears. And when he decides he’s going to take the ball to the basket, there’s nobody in college basketball who's any better. As for not being able to shoot it all that well, he huffs, “I can make shots when it’s time to make shots.”

Vol to watch: Senior forward Wayne Chism is making himself a lot of money right now. He’s always been a good shooter for a big man, but he had 15 rebounds against Ole Miss and 11 rebounds against LSU. He’s also an outstanding defender and can guard anybody on the floor because he moves his feet so well. He’ll have his work cut out against the Kentucky tandem of Patrick Patterson and Cousins.

They said it: “You know they’ve been waiting on this one and would love to take us down, but we haven’t rolled over for anybody all season and aren’t going to start now.” -- Tennessee senior guard Bobby Maze

Game 2: Mississippi State (22-9) vs. Vanderbilt (24-7), 3:15 p.m. ET

What’s at stake: Not a lot for Vanderbilt, which played well in the second half against Georgia in the quarterfinals and should be a solid No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Still, the Commodores want to make sure they're playing their best basketball going into next week. Plus, they haven’t won an SEC tournament title since 1951. Mississippi State has no choice but to win Saturday to have any chance to make the NCAA field. The Bulldogs were one of the last teams out of the field following Friday’s play, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, which means there’s hope. Beating Vanderbilt would be the kind of marquee win that could push the Bulldogs into the NCAA Tournament. They won four games in four days a year ago to play their way into the field.

Scouting the game: This is Kevin Stallings’ best and most talented team since he’s been at Vanderbilt. The Commodores have size, depth and can score a variety of different ways. When senior point guard Jermaine Beal shoots it well, they’re really tough to beat. Mississippi State has been a difficult team to figure this season. The Bulldogs had played well until the end of the regular season, but lost at Auburn and then played terribly in a home loss to Tennessee on Senior Day. The good news for them is that they shot it well in their quarterfinal victory over Florida, going 10-of-20 from 3-point range. When Ravern Johnson and Barry Stewart get it going from outside, they’re a whole different team.

Commodore to watch: Freshman guard John Jenkins came off the bench to score a career-high 25 points against Georgia and was 5-of-8 from 3-point range. He scored 12 straight points to help the Commodores pull away in the second half. The problem with Jenkins is that you simply can’t leave him. But with Vanderbilt having so many other scoring options, teams are forced to make tough choices.

Bulldog to watch: Senior forward Jarvis Varnado is the NCAA’s all-time shot-blocking king. When he’s on the floor, nothing comes easy against the Bulldogs. The Commodores have good size and will throw several different bodies at him, but Varnado has to stay out of foul trouble if Mississippi State is going to make it to the championship game for the second straight year. For the season, Varnado has 152 blocks. As a team, Vanderbilt has 164.

They said it: “I feel like we have nothing to lose, you know. We just come out here to play hard and play together. We had success last year in playing together, and we wanted to keep that focus coming into this tournament. We ain’t the deepest team, but we’re going to fight hard.” – Mississippi State forward Jarvis Varnado

Friday's SEC tournament games

March, 12, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s hard to imagine Kentucky not getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament even if the Wildcats were to stumble Friday against Alabama.

But Kentucky coach John Calipari is using the No. 1 seed as motivation for his club.

“When you're playing a team like Alabama, you have to have the same energy and the same mentality. You have to be playing for something that's important to you,” Calipari said. “For us, it’s that [No. 1] seed in the NCAA tournament.

“I’ve done this a long time, and if anybody tells you the seed doesn’t matter, they’ve never coached in the NCAA tournament. Seed does matter. If that's more important than them playing their season beyond this, then we’ll be fine. If it’s more important to them to continue their season, then we’ll get beat.”

Here’s a quick glance at Friday’s quarterfinal games:

Game 1: Alabama vs. Kentucky, 1 p.m. ET

What’s at stake: The Wildcats want to leave little doubt that they’re a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and this is the first taste of the postseason for the freshman trio of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. Alabama seems to be maturing at just the right time. The Crimson Tide rallied from an 18-point deficit in the second half to beat South Carolina 68-63 in the first round.

Scouting report: How interested is Kentucky to be playing in this tournament? If the Wildcats are knocking down shots, it really shouldn’t matter. With their size and talent, they’re good enough to beat anybody in this league when they’re making shots. Even though Kentucky’s dangerous in the transition game, look for Alabama to take its chances with the press and try to force the Wildcats into mistakes.

They said it: “It’s more than winning for us. It’s how we play. It’s about getting us in the right frame of mind for a postseason run.” -- Kentucky coach John Calipari

Game 2: Ole Miss vs. Tennessee, 3:15 p.m. ET

What’s at stake: Here’s the Rebels’ chance to state their case for an NCAA tournament bid. They’re playing well right now and get a Tennessee team that’s already in the NCAA field. A win over the Vols could be enough to punch Ole Miss’ ticket. The Rebels need a marquee win in the worst way. They haven’t beaten a team with a winning record since December.

Scouting report: Tennessee’s Wayne Chism torched Ole Miss in the teams’ first meeting, a 71-69 win by the Vols in Knoxville. He scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. The other thing the Vols have going for them is 6-foot-11 Brian Williams, who’s playing the best basketball of his career after being suspended the first time the teams played. Ole Miss counters with strong guard play. Tennessee doesn’t have a lot of answers for the Chris Warren-Terrico White tandem.

They said it: “Tennessee didn’t shoot the ball well [in the first round], but can we be fortunate enough for that to happen two days in a row? We feel like our backs are against the wall, but we still control our own destiny.” -- Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy.

Game 3: Florida vs. Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m. ET

What’s at stake: The Gators can probably breathe a little easier after taking care of Auburn in the first round, although a second straight win in Nashville would probably lock up a trip to the NCAA tournament. There is no tomorrow for the Bulldogs unless they win Friday and keep winning. They probably need to win the SEC tournament championship for the second straight year if they’re going to go back to the NCAA tournament.

Scouting report: With college basketball’s top shot-blocker, Jarvis Varnado, roaming the interior, nothing comes easy against Mississippi State inside. It’s difficult to gauge where the Bulldogs are emotionally right now. They were awful on Senior Night in a resounding loss to Tennessee last weekend. The key for the Gators is getting off to a good start. They did that in the first-round win over Auburn after falling behind by double digits in their three straight losses entering the tournament.

They said it: “We had been getting off to slow starts, so we wanted to come out there and throw the first punch and come out with a hunter mentality.” -- Florida junior forward Chandler Parsons

Game 4: Georgia vs. Vanderbilt, 9:45 p.m. ET

What’s at stake: The Bulldogs proved they could win away from home on Thursday in the first round and now they try to carry that momentum into the semifinals. They have just enough athleticism and size to be a team that nobody wants to face right now. The Commodores are probably locked in as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, but would like to get that sour taste out of their mouths from losing to South Carolina on Senior Day last weekend.

Scouting report: Georgia was a tough matchup for Vanderbilt in both previous outings this season. The Bulldogs won 72-58 back on Feb. 6 in Athens, scoring 49 second-half points. The Bulldogs nearly made it a clean sweep of the Commodores on Feb. 25 in Memorial Gym, but couldn’t hold a five-point lead in the final 33 seconds of regulation. Vanderbilt staged a miraculous comeback and won 96-94 in overtime behind a career-high 28 points from senior point guard Jermaine Beal.

They said it: “We feel like we’re better equipped. We’re deeper. We’re bigger. We’re stronger. We’re more physical. We’re better, so we feel like we have a better chance to play well and have a chance to win this tournament. You would think there would be more success here and there. Nobody’s had success in it but Kentucky.” -- Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings.

Shaky Tennessee pulls away from LSU

March, 11, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The stench from this one may resonate for a while.

For Tennessee’s sake, “a while” had better not last longer than 24 hours.

There’s no other way to describe Tennessee’s 59-49 victory over LSU on Thursday as anything other than a real stinkeroo. Up next for the No. 13-ranked Vols on Friday is an Ole Miss team fighting for its NCAA tournament life.

If not for their defense, the Vols (24-7) would have been in real trouble against the Tigers. They were 4-of-23 from 3-point range and finished with 17 turnovers and six assists in the kind of performance that was anything but befitting of a high seed in the NCAA tournament.

At one point in the second half, somebody turned around on press row and said, “One of these teams is going to the NCAA tournament. Can you tell which one?”

The Tigers (11-20) just couldn’t make enough shots to stage a serious run at the Vols in the final minutes.

Tennessee struggled against LSU’s zone defense, although senior center Wayne Chism was able to maneuver his way for 17 points and 10 rebounds. Junior big man Brian Williams continues to play well for the Vols since returning from his suspension. He yanked down a game-high 14 rebounds.

One of the biggest concerns for the Vols is sophomore Scotty Hopson. He’d played well down the stretch in the regular season after drifting in and out of games the first part of the season. But he was a complete no-show Thursday and had no energy about him in an 0-for-8 performance from the field.

At the half: LSU 21, Tennessee 21

March, 11, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For much of the first half, No. 15-ranked Tennessee gave new meaning to the word "disinterested."

For a program that’s made a living of playing miserably in the SEC tournament, the Vols looked like they might take it to a new low Thursday, but rebounded enough to pull even with LSU in a 21-21 tie at the half.

The Vols were just 7-of-27 from the field, and most of the field goals they did make were rebound buckets or putbacks. Wayne Chism scored 10 points for Tennessee, and the rest of his teammates combined for 11.

The Tigers did a good job of pushing the Vols out away from the basket with their zone defense, and Tennessee couldn’t knock down shots. The Vols were 1-of-9 from 3-point range. Of course, LSU was even worse -- 0-of-7.

Yep, it’s been that kind of game … ugly.

If the Vols don’t get it going in the second half, this is the kind of listless performance that could hurt their seed in the NCAA tournament.
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But maybe he should be.

After the Tennessee Volunteers upset No. 2 Kentucky Saturday, the common consensus was that Bruce Pearl had hit on an effective way to slow the Wildcats down. The game plan is simple: Walk the ball up the floor, take good shots where possible (thanks to Wayne Chism's desire to fire the ball at the rim-shaped apparatus so indiscriminately, this part of the plan wasn't on point), get back on defense to prevent transition, and sink into a saggy, help-heavy zone in the half court. Though it's not nearly as bad as some of Calipari's former Memphis teams, this year's Kentucky team only shoots 34.1 percent from three; much of its offense comes from penetration and the offensive rebounding of DeMarcus Cousins.

In other words, according to the parameters of standard basketball strategy, Pearl's strategy makes sense. A zone is the play. And the Vols have the win to show for it.

This may not surprise you, but John Calipari does not agree:

"It's funny, because everybody has the 'This is how you play them.' Yeah, you hold your nose and close your eyes and hope we can't make any shots. Yeah, that's a good way to play. If we make shots -- if we go 5-for-22, which stinks -- we win going away."

This is a fair point, I guess. But part of the reason Kentucky shot 2-of-22 -- which is unusually bad, obviously -- is because they're not a great three-point shooting team. Let's clarify. Kentucky is a great team. But like any of this year's great teams, they have slight blemishes, areas in which they're not as impressive as others. When you play great teams, you have to force them to rely on skills at which they are merely good. Or in the case of Kentucky's three-pointing shooting, average. For better or worse, this is what a zone does. Whether those shots are falling or not is beside the point; the idea is merely to make Kentucky shoot. Which Tennesseee did.

That's what Tennessee did to Kentucky, both in Saturday's win and in Tennessee's tight performance at Rupp Arena on Feb. 13. And it's what other teams will do to UK, too. Fortunately for the Cats, their defensive efficiency is approaching typically high John Calipari-at-Memphis levels, meaning they're built to survive off-nights from behind the arc. But if the Wildcats are forced to rely on their three-point shooting -- if they let tournament teams push them away from the penetrating, dominating inside game that's made them so effective -- they'll have similar struggles in March. Calipari should worry about that.

Tennessee leads Kentucky at halftime, 40-29

February, 27, 2010
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Halftime thoughts from Tennessee 40, Kentucky 29.

  • Clearly, Tennessee just needs to play home games against top-five teams and everything will be OK. The Volunteers handed Kansas its only loss of the season here in early January, and are halfway to handing Kentucky just its second defeat of the year. Yet another example that Bruce Pearl does his best work when he's an underdog.
  • Tennessee got a terrific first half from mercurial J.P. Prince. He scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, was active defensively and creased Kentucky's defense driving the ball on several occasions.
  • Tennessee also survived five three-point hoists from 6-foot-10 center Wayne Chism in the game's first ten minutes. He missed them all. Chism is a decent three-point shooter, so taking a couple (when open) is fine. Jacking them up indiscriminately should not be part of the Volunteers' game plan.
  • Speaking of being invited to shoot: John Wall's perimeter game continues to deconstruct. The Kentucky point guard was 1-for-8 in the first half and missed all three of his 3-point shots. Wall has made three of his last 22 3-pointers. At this rate, he'll be left open a lot from the perimeter in the coming weeks.
  • Kentucky is shooting just 24 percent from the field and 9 percent from 3-point range. Considering that, being down 11 isn't all that bad. If the Wildcats can find a stroke, this game could tighten up appreciably in the second half.

Forde observations: Love leads Xavier

February, 13, 2010
Eight o'clock thoughts:

  • Xavier comes much closer to punching an NCAA ticket with a big victory at Florida. The Musketeers had a week to stew on their beatdown at Dayton and came out flying in Gainesville. But most impressive was the fact that Xavier lost its big lead and never folded. Rookie head coach Chris Mack called a good timeout at the 10:32 mark of the second half with the game tied, and his team responded with a 12-2 run and kept the lead the rest of the way.

    You also have to enjoy a solid senior like Jason Love. "Senior" can be a dirty word in the quixotic world of college basketball these days, but he's a success story. The post man has improved his scoring from 6.7 points as a junior to 11 as a senior, and his rebound numbers from 5.9 to 8.4. Against the Gators, Love had 20 points and 10 rebounds, showcasing his growth over his career.
  • The SEC was supposed to be much improved this year -- and I bought the hype -- but it's still nothing special. Kentucky is easily the best of the bunch, with Vanderbilt and Tennessee following, but after that it's a muddled mess. The SEC West might not have a single NCAA team in it.
  • Wayne Chism is going to test his injured ankle pregame to see whether he can go against Kentucky. If Chism isn't 100 percent, Tennessee has no chance in Rupp Arena. Even with him, the Volunteers might not have a chance.
  • When compiling my potential home-underdog upset list earlier today, I should have paid more attention to the Colonial Athletic Association. James Madison (3-11 in the CAA coming into the game) knocked off VCU (9-5 coming in). And William & Mary is up 14 at halftime on Northeastern, which entered the contest 12-2 in the league.

Vols' tough task gets even tougher

February, 13, 2010
Bernard King or no, Tennessee's trip to Kentucky was always going to be an uphill battle.

After all, even if the Volunteers were at full strength -- heck, even if they still had long-since-dismissed forward Tyler Smith in their ranks -- Kentucky would be the better team, playing at home, with a crowd so crazy they showed up 22,000-strong for an early morning college basketball preview show. Not a game. We're not talking about a game. We talking about GameDay, man. GameDay. GameDay. Not practice. Not a game. GameDay.

Sorry. Allen Iverson relapse. It happens. What was I saying? Ah yes: Tennessee was always going to be in trouble in Kentucky. Those chances are even worse -- trending toward "dire" -- if forward Wayne Chism doesn't play, which he might not.
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl revealed the playing status of senior post Wayne Chism will be a "game-time decision" after Chism sat out Friday night's walkthrough at Rupp Arena with a sprained ankle. "We're just going to have to keep going at them,'' Pearl said. "Kenny Hall is giving away a lot of size, but he'll battle. He'll try to put his body between them and the ball and rebound and use his quickness to beat them to spots.''

That's very noble of the Volunteers, but stopping DeMarcus Cousins is already difficult. Cousins has seven double-doubles in his last seven games. He's one of the best offensive rebounders in the country, and one of the best on the defensive glass. He uses the second-highest percentage of his team's possessions of anyone in the country. As John Wall has gotten most of the national accolades, Cousins has turned into the country's most dominant interior presence, and what's especially scary is that his offensive game is still raw. He has much room to improve.

The Volunteers won't worry about that; they're just tasked with stopping Cousins today. How do they do it? Um, fronting the post? Pushing the pace in the hopes of tiring Cousins out? Chop-blocking the big man in the knees every time he jumps? (That's a joke, by the way. Don't get mad at me.) None of these strategies is likely to work very well, even with Chism in the game. If he doesn't play ... oof. It could get ugly.

(Hat tip: The Dagger)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – His nickname is “Dolla Beal.”

And sure enough, Jermaine Beal was money Wednesday night in No. 23 Vanderbilt’s 85-76 victory over 14th-ranked Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Or better yet … straight cash.

[+] EnlargeJermaine Beal
Don McPeak/US PresswireJermaine Beal scored 25 points in Vanderbilt's win over Tennessee.
His coach, who’s not one to unnecessarily gush, called him spectacular and the ultimate security blanket, among other things.

“It’s one of the first things I said to the team after the game,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings recounted. “When your senior plays like a senior, things get a lot easier. And he certainly played like one tonight.

“He was awesome, really awesome.”

Indeed, Beal shot holes in the Vols’ defense and took over in the second half on his way to 25 points. He played 38 minutes and didn’t have a turnover. He made all three of his 3-point attempts in the second half. He was simply the best player on the court.

“He was the difference,” Tennessee senior guard Bobby Maze said. “And what made him so terrific was that he was able to knock down shots.”

Nobody needed to tell Beal that this was his last shot in Knoxville after some horrific shooting performances against the Volunteers the last couple of years, particularly in this building.

A year ago, Beal was 1-of-10 from the field for three points in a 69-50 loss in Knoxville. He missed both of his 3-pointers. He wasn’t much better in the game in Nashville, going 1-of-7 from the field in a 76-63 loss to the Vols. He missed all five of his 3-pointers in that game.

And two years ago in Knoxville, Beal was 1-of-5 from the field in an 80-60 loss to Tennessee.

So when the game was hanging there in the balance in the second half Wednesday, Beal never blinked.

“I haven’t won here forever,” said Beal, who scored eight straight points to turn a six-point game into a 74-60 runaway with 4:57 remaining. “My only chance to win here was tonight. The main thing was to go out and play hard and leave everything out there, and I feel like we did that.”

As a result, the 23rd-ranked Commodores (16-3, 5-0) extended their winning streak to 10 straight games. It was also their third straight road win in the SEC. The last time they won their first three away from home in the league was the 1964-65 season.

It’s a given these guys are pretty good in Memorial Gym with the funky setup and the benches at the end of the court. They’re a tough out at home and always have been.

But the makeup of this team makes you think the Commodores are going to be a tough out no matter where they play or who they play the rest of the way.

You name it, and the Commodores have it. They have depth, size, shooters and a senior point guard who knows when to take charge.

And when things got testy Wednesday, Vanderbilt proved to be the tougher, more physical team.

“We have a physical team,” Stallings said. “A year ago, we were not physical, and we could be taken advantage of in games like that. We are more physical this year. I don’t know that we’re the most physical, but we’re more physical than we’ve been.”

Getting Andre Walker back from his knee injury last season has been huge. His stat line every night is usually the same. He had nine points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks against the Vols.

The emergence of sophomore post players Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang has been equally important, and Stallings said 6-11 junior A.J. Ogilvy is in better shape.

“Our big guys do a decent job of giving us a presence in that lane area, and that’s a big key for our team,” Stallings said.

And when the Commodores shoot the ball the way they did against the Vols (15-4, 3-2), they can make a case for being the most complete team in the SEC.

Freshman John Jenkins has been a terror shooting the 3-pointer off the bench. His 3 at the 7:39 mark to answer Maze’s jumper was one of the biggest shots of the night.

The trio of Brad Tinsley, Jenkins and Beal was a combined 8-of-12 from 3-point range for the game.

“I think it’s the most complete team I’ve played on, definitely,” said Ogilvy, who scored 12 points and took advantage of an ailing Wayne Chism, who had 16 rebounds, but had trouble scoring after hyper-extending his knee Saturday at Georgia.

“We’re bigger and stronger and a lot more athletic than any team I’ve played on and have the ability to shoot the ball. We have every piece of the puzzle, really.”

Where it goes from here for the Commodores in the short term remains to be seen. They get Kentucky on Saturday in Lexington and then Mississippi State at home next Wednesday.

But if everyone stays healthy, this is a team built for a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Don’t tell that to Stallings -- not yet anyway. He can’t see past the next practice.

“If you get to a point where you think you’ve arrived, then you’ve got some problems,” he said.

True enough.

But right now, these Commodores are full of answers.

Major foul trouble for Tennessee

January, 27, 2010
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- If Tennessee is going to hold off Vanderbilt, the Vols are going to have to do it despite major foul trouble.

Both Scotty Hopson and Kenny Hall picked up their fourth fouls in the early minutes of the second half. J.P. Prince came back a few minutes later and picked up a pair of technical fouls.

The Vols were able to build a lead as large as six points, but they're going to have to play a large chunk of this second half without some of their key players.

Senior center Wayne Chism has been awfully quiet. He's rebounding well, but has yet to score a field goal. The Vols, leading 51-47, are going to need him offensively these last 12 minutes.

With all this foul trouble, you keep thinking that Vanderbilt will be able to exploit Tennessee inside. But so far, that hasn't happened.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Bruce Pearl’s orange jacket was loud enough.

But the loudest roar of the first half Wednesday came just before the buzzer when Pearl’s son, Steven, flew in for a nifty reverse layup on a fast break to give Tennessee its biggest lead of the half, 35-31, over Vanderbilt.

Neither team was able to get into much of an offensive flow. The lead changed 10 times until the Vols’ flurry to close the half.

Ironically enough, Tennessee was able to sprint out front thanks to a couple of 3-pointers. Scotty Hopson connected and then J.P. Prince (who was 1-for-7 from 3-point range coming in) followed with another one from long distance.

That’s after the Vols started 1-for-4 from 3-point range.

Hopson, as he’s done on occasion, sort of drifted in and out of the game. The Vols desperately need him to be more assertive.

Historically, Tennessee’s Wayne Chism has gotten the best of his Vanderbilt post counterpart, A.J. Ogilvy. But in the first half Wednesday, neither player was much of a factor.

Ogilvy had two points, no rebounds, two fouls and three turnovers, while Chism went the entire half without a field goal and managed just one free throw in the final minutes.

Tennessee started slow on defense, but picked it up as the first half wore on.