Dogs have plenty of bite

If you were concocting the ideal gameplan to beat the Tennessee Basketball Vols, you probably would build it around two things:

First, the Vols struggle to defend quick guards, so you'd start four of them who are equally adept at bombing from outside and penetrating to the inside. Auburn used this very tactic to upset UT 78-77 three weeks ago.

Secondly, the Vols get most of their points in the paint, so you'd rely heavily on a packed defense and an ace shot-blocker. Kansas used this very tactic to dump UT 92-85 on Jan. 3.

None of this bodes well for Tennessee heading into Wednesday night's game with visiting Mississippi State. The Bulldogs start four quick guards who love to launch 3-pointers. Their other starter, 6-foot-9 Jarvis Varnado, is an even better shot-blocker than Kansas' Cole Aldrich, who rejected 6 UT shots back in January. Varnado, in fact, has blocked 134 shots this year, 16 more than anyone else in college hoops.

So, if you were building the perfect team to beat Tennessee, it probably would look a lot like the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

"They play small," Vol aide Jason Shay said earlier today. "They're going to basically have four guards out there. And they're going to stretch the floor because they lead the conference in 3-point field goals made.

"That's going to put a lot of pressure on our perimeter players and at least one post player – to be out there to challenge and contest shots. What happens is, that opens the floor up and allows Varnado to have one-on-one coverage closer to the basket."

Varnado's scoring ability isn't a major concern, though. His shot-blocking ability is. He leads the NCAA with 5.0 rejections per game. Given Tennessee's reliance on inside scoring, that makes him the overwhelming key to Wednesday night's game.

"The challenge is scoring around the basket," Shay conceded. "You've got a team that leads the country in shot blocking ... and that's our strength – getting the ball in to Wayne (Chism) and Tyler (Smith), and J.P. (Prince) scoring around the basket."

Since the Vols do most of their scoring close to the hoop and Varnado excels at protecting the hoop, Tennessee's quandary is obvious:

As Shay put it: "How are we going to get easy looks closer to the basket and finish?"

That question will be put to the test Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee fans may not like the answer.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories