Varnado vs. Chism

As 6-foot-9 post players from West Tennessee, Bolivar's Wayne Chism and Brownsville's Jarvis Varnado squared off a few times at the high school level. A lot has changed since then, however.

"He's become a better player," Chism said this week, "and so have I."

Indeed. Varnado, now a junior at Mississippi State, leads all of college basketball with 134 blocked shots. Chism, a junior at Tennessee, has just 22 blocked shots but contributes in a variety of ways. He leads the Vols in rebounds (8.4 per game) and ranks second in scoring (13.1 points per game). He is hitting a solid 47.4 percent of his field goals and has drained 24 shots from 3-point range. Like Varnado, he is an exceptional post defender, although he is not a great shot-blocker.

Ultimately, the matchup between Varnado and Chism could determine the outcome of tonight's matchup between Mississippi State and Tennessee. Tipoff is set for 9 o'clock at Thompson-Boling Arena, with TV coverage provided by Raycom.

"It's going to be a good matchup," Chism said this week. "I've just got to stay focused, be physical as I used to and don't let nothing bother me. This is going to be a battleground because he's going to send everything (directed toward the basket) to the next row."

Despite Varnado's penchant for blocking shots, Tennessee cannot afford to show him so much respect that the Vols back off from the basket.

"We've got to still pound the ball inside," UT freshman Scotty Hopson said. "That's our game. That will open up the outside for me and the rest of the guys on the perimeter."

Since Varnado is likely to reject some of Tennessee's early shots, the question arises: Will the Vols be stubborn enough to continue taking the ball at him?

"It's going to be a challenge," Hopson conceded. "I think our main game plan is to try to get him in foul trouble, so he won't be in the game. That way he won't be able to adjust our shots."

Chism agrees that, no matter how many shots Varnado might block, the Vols must keep attacking the rim.

"We're going to have to," Chism said. "We just can't go in there like 'We're going to shoot 3s this game because he's down there.' No. Let's go in there.

"It's about showing you've got heart. If you get it (blocked), go back again. You might get a foul. You just keep going. If the shots ain't falling from outside, you've got to go score someway somehow."

One way Tennessee can neutralize Varnado's brilliance as a shot-blocker is to draw him away from the basket. The best way to do this might be to let Chism play some power forward and launch a few 3-pointers. The problem with this approach, however, is that Chism sometimes forgets he's playing a different position.

"I get down there at the 4 (power forward) sometimes thinking I'm at the 5 (post)," Chism admitted. "It can be a heck of a lot difference in this game, so I've really got to stay focused and remember what position I'm in."

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