Hoop Vols host final tuneup

Nobody gives you the quality coverage of Vol hoops you'll find each time you visit InsideTennessee. Check out this preview of tonight's exhibition finale with Lenoir-Rhyne:

Heading into tonight’s exhibition finale, first-year Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall is trying to get a handle on his team and his team is trying to get a handle on the basketball.

Six months after the coach turned over the roster by adding nine newcomers the Vols are proving to be pretty prolific at turnovers, too. They committed 18 of them – many unforced – in Monday’s 80-62 exhibition win against Pikeville of the NAIA.

Basically, the Big Orange debut was fast and furious. Tennessee went too fast and its coach was furious. With the final dress rehearsal for the 2014-15 season scheduled for 7 p.m. against Lenoir-Rhyne, Tyndall hopes for dramatic improvement in ball security this evening.

“We didn’t do a very good job taking care of the basketball,” he said of the exhibition opener. “I thought that was obvious, particularly early in the game…. I hope to limit our turnovers. That can be an Achilles heel for us if we don’t do a better job.”

Tyndall wants the Vols playing at a quick tempo but he also wants a 2/1 assist/turnover ratio. That raises the question: Where is that fine line between going fast and going too fast?

“I think that’s a million-dollar question,” the coach told InsideTennessee. “You want them to be in attack mode. You want to be aggressive. You want to play uptempo. But, on the flip side, you can’t give the ball away. Every day in practice we try to play at a high speed but still value the ball and take care of it. There will be a point in time where we have to make a decision: Either slow down, run good offense and take care of the ball or, if we can get better in limiting our turnovers, fast is the way we want to play; I do know that.”

Finding the right tempo can be difficult since it changes from game to game, half to half and even possession to possession.

“You just have to get a feel for the game,” sophomore Robert Hubbs told IT. “Sometimes you go as fast as you can and sometimes you have to slow it down a notch.”

Junior-college transfer Kevin Punter conceded that several Vols were moving a little too fast Monday night.

“I think a few guys were a little nervous, so guys tend to get sped up a little bit,” he said. “I think as the game went on guys slowed down, including myself. I felt I was less aggressive, a little more patient – probably too patient.”

Finding a suitable tempo wasn’t the only problem vexing the Vols Monday night. There were several valid reasons Tennessee’s ball-handling was sloppy in the exhibition opener:

Senior Josh Richardson was making his first career start at point guard.

“At times our offense was a little bit stagnant,” Tyndall said, “but you certainly can’t put all of that on Josh. He’s a guy that’s playing out of position – we all understand that – but he’s embraced the role. He’s doing the best that he can. I think he’ll continue to learn each and every day on the fly. It’s not an easy deal to go play point guard for the first time in his career as a senior.”

Punter was projected to play the 1 (point guard) this season but wound up playing almost exclusively the 2 (shooting guard) in the exhibition opener. That was fine by him.

“If anybody tells me I can slide over to the 2 I’m always good with it,” he said with a laugh. “I asked Josh a few times if he was good at the 1, and he said he was fine. But if he would’ve asked me to get it I would’ve been bringing it up and running the show.”

Tennessee has just one true point guard on the roster, freshman Braxton Bonds, and he is ineligible after attending a few classes at Liberty University last summer. He has applied for a waiver, however, and will play immediately if the NCAA rules in his favor.

“He would probably play eight to 12 minutes a game,” Tyndall said. “He’s a true point guard, has a very good feel. He can make his teammates better. He’s not a great scorer by any stretch but he’s got the feet to be a good defender and, even though he’s a walk-on, he’d probably play eight to 12 minutes per night.”

Asked by IT about his system’s ability to accommodate the lack of a true point guard, Tyndall replied: “Obviously, in any system it’s ideal if you have a true point guard. It’s helpful, it’s beneficial. That being said, I can’t make that an excuse or an out for our team. We have to continue to plug way, develop the guys we do have, maybe tweak a couple of things offensively here or there, and that’s my responsibility.”

Another reason for the turnover glut in Exhibition No. 1 was continuity. There is none when you give 11 guys at least eight minutes of playing time.

“I’m in a dilemma because I have 11 guys that are practicing the right way and I have 11 guys that are coachable,” Tyndall said. “They’re working hard, and so many guys are basically even that you want to give them all an opportunity to prove themselves.”

With Devon Baulkman slowed by a shoulder problem, Tennessee probably will utilize just 10 players tonight. That’s still two more than Tyndall’s rotation will feature once the regular season begins.

On a positive note, it’s better to make 18 turnovers in exhibition play than to make 18 in regular-season play, when that many mistakes can result in a loss.

“It was a lot of guys’ first game playing in TBA (Thompson-Boling Arena), so a lot of dudes were a little nervous,” Punter said. “We’ll be fine.”


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