Speed kills

Five-foot-8 East Tennessee State point guard Tim Smith sliced through Tennessee defenders for 26 points and 8 assists three weeks ago in the basketball season opener.

Five-foot-8 Appalachian State point guard D.J. Thompson provided something of a replay in Game 5, puncturing the Vol defense to the tune of 14 points and 8 assists.

Why couldn't Tennessee contain those two pint-sized point guards? In a word: speed. Smith has it. Thompson has it. Tennessee lacks it. That's why those mercurial mighty-mites gave the Vols fits. That's why upcoming foes with exceptional quickness could give Tennessee fits, as well.

UT head coach Bruce Pearl has some quickness in his November signing class but those players won't be eligible until next season. In the meantime, Tennessee must do whatever it can to keep pace with speedsters such as Smith and Thompson.

"Thompson is similar to Tim Smith," Tennessee forward Dane Bradshaw noted. "Smith's quicker but Thompson was faster getting the ball up the court. Fortunately, playing East Tennessee State helped prepare us for a quick team like Appalachian State."

The Vols may have been well prepared for the task but they still weren't well equipped for the task. They simply didn't have the quickness to stick with Thompson and rangy Doug McLaughlin-Williams, a 6-8 forward who was 7 of 9 from the field, 5 of 5 from 3-point range and led Appy State with 21 points. He was the Mountaineers' only starter taller than 6-5.

"They went with a quick lineup, which we weren't expecting," Bradshaw noted.

Unfortunately for Tennessee, speedy foes are going to present match-up problems all season, whether the Vols expect it or not. Quick-footed guards like Rajon Rondo of Kentucky and Taurean Green of Florida could give Tennessee even more trouble than Tim Smith and D.J. Thompson did.

It's worth noting that reserve guard JaJuan Smith came off the Vol bench to play 23 minutes against Appy State. He guarded Thompson for much of that time and did a reasonably good job. Thus, Smith's ability to stick with speedy opposing guards looms as a key to Tennessee's success in the weeks and months to come.

One thing's for sure: Pearl's game plan is predicated on forcing opponents to run. That game plan will only work, though, if Tennessee can run with them.


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