Points to ponder

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl gave his freshman point guards one start each in the two preseason exhibitions, figuring that would help clarify who should start Friday's regular-season opener vs. Middle Tennessee.

It didn't. Marques Johnson started Game 1 and played well, then relieved in Game 2 and played well. Ramar Smith relieved in Game 1 and played well, then started Game 2 and played well.

"It's clear they're both good players, and we're going to have to make a decision," Pearl said. "I'd give Ramar the edge right now but we've still got to put it together."

Asked for his impressions of Smith, Pearl replied: "You can see the talent and you can see the feel for the game. Ramar's good in transition but he's still a combo guard trying to play point guard. He's really done well, with all he's had to learn."

Johnson, who takes fewer risks with the ball, did not commit a turnover in the two exhibitions. He had 7 points, 4 assists and 2 steals in 19 minutes vs. LeMoyne-Owen, then followed with 9 points, 1 assist and 1 steal in 15 minutes vs. Tusculum.

Smith, who is more of a scorer and penetrator, has put up numbers that are equally impressive. He recorded 12 points, 2 assists, 2 turnovers and 1 steal in 21 minutes vs. LeMoyne-Owen, then 11 points, 8 assists, 2 turnovers and 3 steals in 18 minutes vs. Tusculum.

Further complicating matters is the presence of junior Jordan Howell. He was the backup point guard to C.J. Watson last season but missed most of preseason drills due to a fractured finger. A better outside shooter than the two freshmen, he played eight minutes Friday night, finishing with 6 points, 1 assist and 1 steal.

"Where does Jordan Howell come in? This coming week is going to be important for Jordan," Pearl said.

If Howell winds up being the third point guard he won't come in at all.

"I will not go with a three-way rotation at point guard once we start Friday," Pearl said. "I did it (vs. Tusculum) because it was an exhibition. Two guys will play; three won't. The third guy will not be in the rotation. He'll be the 11th man. I can handle two point guards."

The obvious question: Why is two the magic number?

"If Ramar's playing well and all I can get him is 18 minutes, that's not enough," Pearl said. "Marques starts playing well at the end of the game. By putting Jordan in there and having three guys, neither one of them gets a real rhythm. You can do it with two but I don't think you can do it with three."

Last season Watson averaged 33 minutes per game with Howell getting roughly seven minutes of spot duty. When asked if he prefers having one guy handle the playmaker responsibilities, instead of two, Pearl shook his head.

"No. Believe me, it's my preference (to play two)," he said. "We should be so good at every position that they all play 20 (minutes)."

Barring a dramatic rally by Howell in practice this week, Smith and Johnson will be 1-2 or 2-1 at the point in Friday night's opener vs. Middle Tennessee. Junior guard JaJuan Smith figures the Vols are in good shape either way.

"When they first got here I thought they both were the real deal," he said. "Then when we got into practice and Coach was telling them (the point guard's role), you could tell that wasn't their game. They've had to adapt but they're adapting real well.

"They're doing a great job to be freshmen. They've got a lot of time to improve, and I think they're going to get there. They've got what it takes. That's all I can say."


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