Due to a hand injury, Howell played just two minutes in Game 1 vs. Middle Tennessee, then didn't leave the bench in Game 2 vs. Fordham. He gradually worked his way into the playing rotation, however, replacing freshman Marques Johnson as the No. 2 point guard.
When the offense sputtered in back-to-back losses to Butler and North Carolina in the NIT Tipoff Tournament at Madison Square Garden, head coach Bruce Pearl elevated Howell to the starting lineup for Game 7 at Louisiana Lafayette. The 6-3 junior didn't make anyone forget C.J. Watson but he played 30 solid minutes and got the ball to Chris Lofton often enough for C-Lo to score 31 points and fuel a 77-67 victory.
Since getting the ball to a preseason All-American is generally a pretty good idea, Howell will be starting ahead of freshman Ramar Smith again tonight.
Murray State and Tennessee have several similarities. For instance:
The Racers have a first-year coach (Billy Kennedy); the Vols have a second-year coach (Pearl).
The Racers return just one starter and four lettermen from a 2005-06 team that went 24-7. The Vols return just one starter and five lettermen from a 2005-06 team that went 22-8.
Murray's most versatile player is 6-4, 200-pound Bruce Carter, who ranks No. 1 in points (12.0 per game), No. 2 in rebounding (5.1) and No. 3 in assists (1.9 per game). Tennessee's most versatile player is 6-4, 205-pound Dane Bradshaw, who ranks No. 1 in assists (4.6 per game), No. 4 in rebounding (4.0) and No. 5 in points (6.7).
The Racers, like the Vols, have played five of their first seven games on the road this year.
Murray State's opponents are averaging 69 points per game; Tennessee's opponents are averaging 69 points per game.
The big differences in the two programs are scoring and won-lost record. Tennessee has averaged 79 points per game en route to a 5-2 record, whereas Murray State has averaged just 62 points per game on its way to a 2-5 mark. The Racers are coming off a 74-68 loss to Illinois-Chicago on Tuesday night.
Tennessee and Murray have met just two times previously. Tennessee won 57-38 in 1945 and, 60 years later, won the rematch 64-53 last December in Nashville. That one was a thriller. Murray led until Lofton single-handedly outscored the Racers 12-1 to turn a 47-46 deficit into a 58-48 lead.
Following tonight's game Tennessee returns to action Wednesday, hosting Memphis in a 9 p.m. tipoff that will be televised by ESPN2.