Howell gets 2nd start for Vols

When Major Wingate told me last spring that Jordan Howell would be a key player for the 2006-07 Vol basketball team, I wondered what Major was smoking. I found out days later, when he was suspended – and subsequently dismissed – for a failed substance test.

Still, Wingate's comment proved prophetic. Jordan Howell will make his second start of the season tonight against Murray State. Tipoff is set for 7 o'clock at Thompson-Boling Arena with TV coverage provided by Fox Sports South.

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.

Both teams play "small ball." The Racers start one 6-9 player (Rob Kennedy) and four guys between 6-2 and 6-5. The Vols start one 6-8 player (Duke Crews) and four guys between 6-2 and 6-4.

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.

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