Tennessee was loaded with dangerous offensive weapons last season. So many, in fact, Vols coach Bruce Pearl said forward Tyler Smith, arguably the most talented player in the league, was Tennessee's third option. But with sharp-shooting guards Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith gone, the junior is the Vols' unquestioned, go-to guy this season.
"He is option No. 1 for us and gets a lot of focus of the scouting reports," Pearl said. "He gets a lot of double teams in the block. All eyes are upon him when he gets the ball on the perimeter. He is getting all that attention."
Still, Smith is producing at a better rate. He leads the Vols in scoring (17.2 points) and assists (3.8). Both statistics are up from last season (13.6 and 3.4). Smith is the team's second-leading rebounder, too, averaging 6.3 a game.
How To Play Him
Arkansas doesn't have one player that matches up with someone like Smith, so expect a group effort tonight.
Guard Jason Henry (6-6) may be the closest match, so he'll get his turns. So will big frontcourt players like Michael Washington, Brandon Moore and Andre Clark.
The Razorbacks must make sure Smith doesn't have an easy time posting up. They also need to be cognizant of his skills on the offensive glass. Make Smith work for everything.
Smith is a long, athletic player who can create off the dribble, post up to score points in the paint and pick up even more with putbacks. The swingman is at his best when he has room to roam inside, using his incredible athleticism to get around defenders, score buckets, grab rebounds and create havoc for opponents.
In addition, Smith knows how to get others involved, leading the team in assists. He also shoots 75.4 percent from the foul line.
Smith shot a solid 37.8 percent from behind the 3-point line as a sophomore, but he's been well short of that this season.
Smith, who worked on his outside game in the offseason to prepare himself for the NBA, is making just 27.1 percent (13 of 48) of his 3-point attempts. However, he has reason to believe the shots will start falling more in the near future. Smith snapped out of a four-game funk beyond the arc by hitting a season-best, 3 of 8 against Florida last Saturday.
Arkansas has faced plenty of talented players through the first half of Southeastern Conference play, but Smith could be the most NBA ready. He cranked his game up against the Gators last week, leading the Vols to a win.
Smith scored 16 points, but also grabbed 9 rebounds and handed out 4 assists. Pearl said Smith has had up-and-down games, but it was clear that his play against the Gators was one of the season's better efforts.
"Tyler has had some great games and he's had a couple of games where he's not been as productive," Pearl said. "That's a function of the fact he gets so much attention."
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