Major void

Major Wingate's absence from the Tennessee basketball roster is becoming more significant these days. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound senior's preseason dismissal surely contributed to the Vols' three-game losing streak.

The streak started with an 82-81 setback at Vanderbilt. Wingate's successors, freshmen Duke Crews and Wayne Chism, combined for 19 points and 10 rebounds. Still, Chism struggled offensively, lost his composure at one point and created a distraction by leaving the Vol bench.

Game 2 of the losing streak saw Crews and Chism struggle mightily against Ohio State 7-footer Greg Oden. Despite an injured right hand, Oden made 9 of 13 from the floor, finishing with 24 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Crews and Chism – a combined 4 of 10 from the floor – finished with 9 points, 7 rebounds and zero blocks.

Last night, in Game 3 of the losing streak, Auburn's post duo of Quan Prowell and Josh Dollard combined for 28 points and 17 rebounds, compared to 11 points and 15 rebounds for Crews and Chism.

Tennessee might have won all three games with Major Wingate around. He was, after all, a very good post defender. As a junior he limited NBA lottery pick LaMarcus Aldridge of Texas to five field-goal attempts and 15 total points. He limited Florida's Joakim Noah to six field-goal tries and 11 points in the game at Knoxville and limited Wichita State's Paul Miller to 1-of-9 shooting in the NCAA Tournament.

"Major could go one-on-one with LaMarcus Aldridge and cover him," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl recently noted, adding that Wingate's absence will be felt against "certain teams in the SEC."

That would be the teams with quality inside players. Florida has two (Noah and Al Horford). Alabama has two (Jermareo Davidson, Richard Hendrix). LSU has Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Kentucky has Randolph Morris. Even South Carolina, Saturday's foe at Thompson-Boling Arena, has one. Brandon Wallace, a lanky 6-foot-9 senior, is averaging 11 points per game and ranks third among all SEC players in both rebounds (9.2) and blocked shots (2.7) per game.

Tennessee's shortcomings on the inside weren't critical in November and December because the Vols weren't facing many teams with top-notch big men. An exception was Nov. 24 against North Carolina, when 6-11 Tyler Hansbrough (27 points) and 6-9 Brandan Wright (19) combined to outscore Crews and Chism 46 to 22 in a 101-87 Tar Heel triumph.

"Ohio State and North Carolina are two teams with dominant 5 men in Hansbrough and Oden," Pearl noted. "Those guys played huge, and they did so because of us not having as physical a presence in the post."

Still, the Vol coach added that Chism "did a really good job on Greg Oden" and is "probably our best post defender."

Even so, expecting unproven freshmen like Chism and Crews to play to the level of a proven senior like Wingate would be wildly unrealistic. They will continue experiencing growing pains as the season progresses.

"Dominant 5 men that are the focal point of a team's offense will continue to give us challenges," Pearl conceded. "We'll still be faced with that. That will be a function of everybody's scouting report."

And that will be a Major concern – pun intended – as the Vols try to get their season back on track.

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