Perimeter defense

The Tennessee Vols have found a sure way to get on ESPN SportsCenter: You allow an opposing player to hang 54 points on you.

Kentucky's Jodie Meeks did just that to the Vols on Tuesday night, garnering loads of publicity – the negative kind – for the Big Orange program. Only one player since 1971 scored more points in an SEC game; That would be LSU's Chris Jackson, who put 55 on Ole Miss in 1989.

Tennessee isn't the first team Meeks has torched this season, of course. He produced 46 points against Appalachian State, 39 against VMI and 37 against Kansas State. He's leading the conference in scoring (25.9 points per game), so you have to give the guy some credit.

"I'm always for tipping my hat to a great player," UT head coach Bruce Pearl said on Thursday's SEC coaches' teleconference. "It's not going to be his last big game. I would take nothing away from him or their team for getting him the looks that he got. At the same time, we do struggle with our perimeter defense."

That might be the understatement of the year. Meeks is the fifth opposing guard to post his career game against the Big Orange this season.

"To this point we've struggled," Pearl conceded. "You can look at the fact we've been lit up by five or six guards, and you'd say that would be one of our great challenges."

Tennessee ranks dead last among the 12 SEC teams in field-goal defense (44.7 percent), 3-point defense (36.9 percent) and scoring defense (76.1 points per game). That's why the Vols also rank 10th in scoring margin (plus-7.3).

Fortunately for the Big Orange, its post defense has been pretty good. Otherwise, the Vols' 10-5 record would be considerably worse.

"Interior defense has been much stronger," Pearl said, acknowledging solid play from Wayne Chism, Tyler Smith, Brian Williams and Emmanuel Negedu.

Tennessee's perimeter defense has been so bad, however, that the Vols have lost three of their last four games. They've lost back-to-back home games after winning 37 straight at Thompson-Boling Arena. If they are to repeat as SEC champs they must plug the holes immediately.

"We've got to fix it," Pearl conceded. "You've got to trust your help ... got to know sometimes people will beat you off the bounce."

One of the best players in college basketball at beating people off the bounce is South Carolina's Devan Downey. As fate would have it, he's coming to town Saturday at 6 to challenge the Vols. No doubt, Downey is drooling at the prospect of carving up UT's defense, a la Jodie Meeks.

"Downey can beat you off the bounce," Pearl said, "even if you're not struggling with perimeter defense."


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