Guard play crucial

It remains to be seen whether or not Tennessee's guards will be outplayed at noon (Central) today at Auburn but this much is for certain: They'll be outnumbered.

The Tigers (13-9 overall, 2-5 SEC) utilize a four-guard lineup featuring 6-5 220-pound senior Rasheem Barrett, 6-3 200-pound senior Quantez Robertson, 6-1 185-pound freshman Frankie Sullivan and 6-1 175-pound junior DeWayne Reed.

Reed averages 13.4 points and 3.9 assists per game, both team highs. Barrett chips in 8.4 points per game, Robertson 6.6 (with 3.7 assists) and Sullivan 7.2.

Tennessee (14-7 overall, 5-2 SEC) is expected to go with 6-7 185-pound freshman Scotty Hopson and 6-4 196-pound junior Josh Tabb as its starting guards. Cameron Tatum, a 6-6 196-pound redshirt freshman, backs up Hopson. Bobby Maze, a 6-2 185-pound junior, backs up Tabb.

Guard play is always important but that's especially true against the kind of four-guard lineup that Auburn presents.

"Just sit on your couch, watch ESPN and watch guards win games," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl said earlier this week. "Watch them make shots and make plays. Scotty's scoring is important ... Bobby's as well, particularly in late-game situations."

As most fans are acutely aware, Tennessee's guard play has been incredibly erratic this season. Here are some numbers to consider from the past seven games:

- Hopson had 1-for-6 shooting performances against Kentucky and Arkansas, plus an 0-for-6 outing against Memphis. Conversely, he had a 20-point performance against Florida and 19-point game against South Carolina during the same span.

- Tatum's point totals for the past seven games were 6, 12, 3, 0, 3, 9 and 6. His field-goal percentage during that stretch was 37.8 (14 of 37).

- Tabb probably needs to be more offensive-minded now that he's starting at the point. He has taken just 14 shots and scored just 22 points over the past seven games, an average of 2.0 shots and 3.1 points per game.

- Maze seems to have found his stroke since surrendering the first-team point guard role three games ago. In three games coming off the bench he has hit 13 of 25 shots (52.0 percent) and averaged 10.7 points per outing. He was 5 of 7 Wednesday night at Arkansas, nailing the game-winning 18-footer with 5.4 seconds left.

"Bobby is an offensive point guard," Pearl noted. "He needs to score for us to win. He's got a real good understanding of offense and spacing."

Although Tabb is a somewhat reluctant shooter, he has drained three of his last five 3-pointers and is shooting a commendable 36.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

"Stepping into the 3-ball is something on that side of the floor he's very comfortable with," Pearl said.

Although Tennessee is expected to force-feed 6-9 Wayne Chism and 6-7 Tyler Smith today in an effort to exploit Auburn's lack of size, the Vols will need some perimeter offense to keep the Tigers from packing the lane.

"There's no question that scoring from the guards is important," Pearl said. "It's always been where we've hung our hat."

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