Will Tyndall make it nine lineups in 12 games when the Vols host East Tennessee State Wednesday at 1 o’clock? Don’t bet against it. He hints that his lineup could be a fluid situation all season.
“I think we¹re kind of at the point where we¹ve got eight starters,” Tyndall said recently. “Based on lineups, based on opponents, based on how guys practice, that (lineup) can vary literally from game to game.”
Senior point guard Richardson and junior shooting guard Punter started each of the first 11 games. Junior forward Moore started all 11 regular-season games after coming off the bench in the two exhibitions. Freshman post Carmichael has 10 starts, junior guard Devon Baulkman and junior forward Derek Reese three each. Sophomore wing Robert Hubbs and freshman post Jabari McGhee have started two games apiece. Six-foot-10 freshman Tariq Owens has made one start and fellow rookie Detrick Mostella became the 10th Vol to start when he took the floor Dec. 27 against Tennessee Tech.
“Detrick had been really good the last few days in practice, so we gave him the nod,” Tyndall explained after the game. “We¹ll see how things shake out but I think right now we've got about eight or nine guys who could start on any given night.”
Here's an interesting stat: Every scholarship player has started at least one game this season except graduate transfer Ian Chiles, who has been limited by injuries to three relief appearances.
The Vols believe Tyndall’s willingness to shuffle his lineup keeps them on their toes.
“Everybody comes in with the same mindset – compete with each other each day and get better,” Baulkman said. “Nobody stresses about who’s starting and who’s not, as long as you get in and do your role at your position.”
Apparently, the line between little-used reserve and starter is a razor-thin one at Tennessee. After spending all 40 minutes on the bench in Game 5 against Marquette, Owens started Game 6 versus Kansas State.
“It’s all about staying ready,” Armani Moore explained.
Indeed. And “staying ready” is easier when a player knows each practice represents an opportunity to win a spot in Tyndall’s starting five.
As Moore put it: “Each and every day in practice he tells guys ‘Just be ready for your turn, no matter when it is. Always be ready to play.’”
Even Richardson, who leads the team in scoring (16.3 points per game), assists (37) and steals (24), feels the need to prove himself each time he takes the practice floor.
“It helps, just knowing that you can never take a day off,” he said. “Every day practice is up for grabs, and guys know that.”
Punter thinks the Vols practice with more enthusiasm than most teams because they know a first-team berth is always within reach.
“Guys get after it in practice, and that’s where it starts for everyone – trying to earn their spots,” he said. “With Coach, you never know who’s going to start. It’s not a set-in-stone lineup, so everyone brings it in practice.”
That’s precisely the mindset Tyndall hopes to encourage.
“I’ve always based everything we do on practice and production,” he said. “I think when you don’t give anybody anything or guarantee anybody anything, it keeps practices competitive. That makes each and every guy know they need to come to practice and punch the clock.
“Secondly, your team gets better because the practices are intense and competitive. It helps everybody, and no one can say, ‘Well, this guy doesn¹t practice hard and he starts,’ or ‘That guy didn't practice hard last week and he’s still starting.’
“They know: You either practice the right way or you¹re not in the lineup.”
GAME NOTES: East Tennessee State brings a 6-3 record into Wednesday’s game. The Bucs are no pushovers on the road, boasting wins at Winthrop, Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky…. ETSU’s top scorers are senior guards Jalen Riley (19.8 points per game) and Rashawn Rembert (17.0)…. The Vols lead the all-time series with ETSU 13-2. The last nine meetings have taken place in Knoxville…. Tennessee is 7-4 this season, with a 6-0 record when holding the opponent below 60 points…. The Vols are riding a three-game winning streak during which they have shot 43.6 percent (24 of 55) from 3-point range…. The game will be aired by the SEC Network.