Most improved?

Picking a "Most Valuable Player" following Tennessee's 2005-06 basketball season will be difficult. Selecting a "Most Improved Player" may be impossible. There are too many viable candidates.

"It's really hard to elevate one guy above the rest," head coach Bruce Pearl said recently. "You can absolutely say – and the statistics bear this out – that every player on this team is helping the cause. Their numbers are all up from a year ago."

He's right. Here's a comparison of each Vol's 2004-05 and 2005-06 scoring averages:

Stanley Asumnu 2.4 to 9.2 (+6.8)

Major Wingate 5.0 to 11.6 (+6.6)

JaJuan Smith 1.9 to 8.5 (+6.6)

C.J. Watson 11.9 to 16.5 (+4.6)

Chris Lofton 13.2 to 16.8 (+3.6)

Dane Bradshaw 3.0 to 6.5 (+3.5)

Andre Patterson 7.4 to 9.7 (+2.3)

Jordan Howell 1.1 to 2.7 (+1.6)

Several Vols' shooting percentages are way up, too. For instance, Howell has improved from a team-worst 24.1 last season to a team-best 61.1 this season. That's a rise of 37 percentage points.

Asumnu has gone from 39.1 to 51.8, Watson from 41.0 to 51.5, Smith from 31.5 to 42.9 and Lofton from 48.1 to 49.2. Wingate, Patterson and Bradshaw are slightly below last season's percentages.

Although he has no 2004-05 stats for comparison's sake, another Vol who has made big strides this season is 6-9 freshman Ryan Childress. He has improved steadily from Game 1 to Game 11, which is why he's seeing more meaningful minutes than he was in November and December.

"The fact he's been out there in late-game situations and we've been fine is a real good sign," Pearl said. "Ryan's confidence is building, and I think he's played better against better opponents."


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