Dynamic dictator

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First there was Julius Caesar. Then there were guys like Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Ferdinand Marcos, Francisco Franco and Kim Jong Il.

Famous dictators ... all of them. They dictated on a grand scale.

Tennessee's Jordan McRae likes to dictate, too, but he does so on a much smaller scale. Although the 6-foot-5, 184-pounder is a natural wing, he enjoys dictating tempo in his occasional role as the Vols' backup point guard.

"I like it just fine," he said recently. "I like the ball in my hands. What player doesn't like the ball in his hands and to dictate what's going on out there?"

McRae will be looking to dictate a victory when the Vols (7-3) host Xavier (7-4) tonight at 6:05 in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Head coach Cuonzo Martin's first two years on The Hill have seen him audition numerous candidates for the backup job behind first-team point guard Trae Golden. Wes Washpun, Cameron Tatum, Skylar McBee and McRae got shots at it last season. Freshman Armani Moore and sophomore walk-on Brandon Lopez took turns this season until McRae emerged as a viable option the past two weeks.

In addition to filling the point role while Golden rests, he occasionally brings the ball upcourt when Golden is on the floor.

"I think it's just a way of playing a little faster," said McRae, who has explosive quickness. "Sometimes we're so concentrating on giving Trae the ball off missed field goals (that the Vols miss transition opportunities). Now we're just getting out and running, with Trae running the wing (and McRae with the ball). I think that's helping us out a lot."

Although he still gets out of control at times — five turnovers in last week's defeat of Western Carolina — McRae's superior athleticism seems to have earned him the backup point-guard role ... at least for now. When asked if finding a backup point guard is a top priority these days, Martin shook his head.

"Not at all," the coach said. "I think Jordan McRae can do it, depending on the situation. I played on a team (at Purdue) where we didn't have a true point. We've got guys that are scoring points, and I think that's just as vital. Remember, some people say Trae Golden is not a point guard but he can score the ball."

Although he isn't as capable a ball-handler as Golden, McRae brings some serious attributes to the point position.

"He has size and he has length," Martin said. "He has good vision for his size and can find guys on the ball-screens and makes good passes."

Thanks to his height and 7-foot wingspan, McRae can see over and pass over opposing guards. This is a knack he often exploits in working the ball inside to Vol post players.

"Yeah, especially when there's weakside help; I can throw it over the top," McRae said. "We've been working on that a little bit in practice with me playing the point."

Although running the offense is enjoyable, McRae finds it more challenging than playing the wing.

"It's a lot different," he said. "You've got to be a lot more vocal, talk to everybody. You've got to know the plays. Right now I'm trying to learn the plays for three different spots (1, 2, 3) and sometimes 4. It's tough but I think I'm doing well at it."

Asked if the mental workload that goes with playing the point has affected his scoring ability, McRae shook his head.

"I don't think it does," he said. "At the point I just get more assists because I'm having more of a point-guard mindset rather than being at shooting guard and worrying about scoring."

Still, McRae has a scorer's mentality. That makes you wonder if he sometimes struggles to drive and dish, rather than drive and score.

"Nah," he said. "I like passing it to somebody open just as much as I like making the shot. That's just part of my game, I guess."

Bottom line: McRae seems comfortable moving over from the wing to play the point on a part-time basis.

"I don't really take it as me playing the point," he said. "I just take it as me bringing the ball upcourt and calling the play."

GAME NOTES: Minus all five starters from 2011-12, Xavier has been streaky this season. The Musketeers won 63-57 at Purdue to cap a 7-1 start but have lost three of their last four, all at home — 66-64 in overtime against Vanderbilt, 60-45 against Cincinnati and 56-55 versus Wofford.... Xavier's best player is 6-foot-3 freshman Semaj Christon, who averages 14.2 points and 5.5 assists per game. He already has been tabbed Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week twice this season.... Backcourt mate Dee Davis, a 6-foot sophomore, is hitting a sizzing 46.8 percent from 3-point range.... Head coach Chris Mack (80-34) has led the Musketeers to NCAA Tournament bids in each of his three years at the helm, with Sweet 16 appearances in 2010 and 2012.... Tennessee is 5-0 at home this season and 20-4 at home under Cuonzo Martin.... Tonight's game can be viewed on ESPNU.

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