Crunching numbers

Because Tennessee's basketball record through 20 games is 17-3, compared to 10-10 a year ago, you'd figure each of the Vols has made a quantum leap statistically since last season. Not so.

Chris Lofton is shooting a lower field goal percentage (47.3, compared to 50.9) and a lower 3-point percentage (43.2, compared to 49.5) in 2005-06 than he was 20 games into the 2004-05 season. His scoring average has jumped from 12.0 to 16.5 but that's mostly because Scooter McFadgen is no longer around to take 40 percent of the perimeter shots.

Andre Patterson's field goal percentage has dropped noticeably, going from 58.9 through 20 games last season to 47.2 through 20 games this season. His rebound average has improved slightly (6.4 to 6.6 per game) and so has his scoring average (7.5 points per game to 9.5). Still, he hasn't made eye-popping progress statistically.

JaJuan Smith is shooting worse from the field (37.8, compared to 38.5) and from beyond the arc (35.9, compared to 38.9) than a year ago. Although his point production has increased from 2.1 to 9.2, his assist total from 4 to 37 and his steal total from 5 to 31, those mostly reflect the fact his minutes have increased from 6.6 to 24.5 per game.

Major Wingate has doubled his scoring average (from 5.4 to 11.3 points per game) but that's because his playing time has increased by six minutes per game (18.6 to 24.7) and he's the primary inside threat now that Brandon Crump is gone. Wingate's field goal percentage is up from 51.4 to 54.9 and his rebound average from 3.2 to 3.9 but those hardly represent dramatic improvements.

Two Vols whose 20-game stats ARE significantly better than last year at this time are C.J. Watson and Dane Bradshaw.

Watson has improved his field goal percentage by nearly 5 points (42.3 to 47.1), his 3-point percentage by 6.5 points (35.6 to 42.1) and his free throw percentage by nearly 13 points (73.9 to 86.7). In addition, he has increased his scoring average from 11.9 to 15.4, while lowering his turnover total from 61 to 33.

Bradshaw is playing roughly twice as many minutes per game this year (27) as last year (14), so you'd figure his numbers would be higher. Even so, he has more than tripled his scoring average (from 2.1 to 7.1), his rebound average (from 1.7 to 6.5) and his steal total (from 10 to 36). And, despite switching from guard to power forward, he has increased his assist total from 37 to 84.

Stanley Asumnu's numbers are up, too. He has increased his scoring average from 1.4 to 9.2, his field goal percentage from 25.0 to 51.0 and his assist total from 3 to 34. Still, a lot of this can be attributed to the fact he's averaging 20.2 minutes per game, up from 5.9 last season.

Moreover, a comparison of Tennessee's 20-game team stats from 2004-05 and 2005-06 reveals that the current Vols have a lower field-goal percentage, a lower free-throw percentage, a worse rebound margin and fewer blocked shots.

It's true. The field goal percentage has slipped from 46.7 to 46.5, the free throw percentage from 69.9 to 69.1, the rebound margin from 0.0 to minus-2.9 and the blocked shot total from 72 to 65.

On the other hand, the 2005-06 Vols are a whole lot more efficient offensively than the 2004-05 Vols were. The current team has 360 assists, up from 284 this time last year. And, despite a much quicker tempo, the current team has committed just 243 turnovers, down from 282 through 20 games last season.

Defensively, Tennessee is allowing opponents to shoot a higher field goal percentage this year (46.3) than last year (44.9) but the 2005-06 Vols have forced 387 turnovers, way up from last year's 20-game total of 275. Much of this can be traced to the fact Tennessee's steals have increased from 143 through 20 games last season to 211 this season.

Clearly, Tennessee's individual and team statistics aren't significantly better in most categories than they were a year ago at this point. Yet, the record has improved from 10-10 to 17-3. What's the explanation?

Simple. The Vols have become a team.

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