Bigger not always better

It's an obvious mismatch when a 6-7 guy and a 6-2 guy go head-to-head on the basketball floor ... but the advantage doesn't always go to the taller player.

Typically, the 6-7 guy will be a step slower than the 6-2 guy. And that, according to Tennessee head man Bruce Pearl, is one reason opposing guards are posting career-high scoring totals against the Vols this winter.

Guys like Jodie Meeks (54 points) of Kentucky, Dionte Christmas (35) of Temple, Wes Matthews (30) of Marquette and Alex Renfroe (30) of East Tennessee State have riddled the Vol defense this season.

"We've had guards go off on us and score on us," Pearl conceded this week.

The reasons are obvious to even the novice fan.

"We have brand new guards," Pearl noted. "We're also big at the position except the point.

"Our point guards, Bobby Maze (6-2) and Josh Tabb (6-4) are about the right size. But Cameron Tatum and Scotty Hopson are both 6-7. It's hard to keep a guy like Meeks in front of you at 6-7."

Substituting doesn't fix the problem because Tatum and Hopson are backed by J.P. Prince and Renaldo Woolridge, both 6-8.

"We're actually TOO big," Pearl said. "People can recognize that and they obviously can take advantage of it."

Hopson and Tatum are two of the most athletically gifted players Tennessee has ever signed. Still, they are slow to recover when smaller, quicker guards dart past them in the open floor.

"People see they can run by us," Pearl said recently, "and that's what they do."

Compounding the problem is this: When Tennessee's guards play off the ball to try and prevent dribble drives, opposing guards are killing them with 3-pointers. Meeks drained 10 of them Tuesday night.

So, ironic as it sounds, the exceptional height of Vol guards is working against them when they face smaller, quicker opponents this season.

That does not bode well for this weekend. The South Carolina team that visits Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday at 6 is led by the mercurial Devan Downey, a 5-9 guard.

His career-high, in case you're wondering, is 37 points.


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