Oddly enough, Tennessee's best perimeter shooter has been freshman point guard C.J. Watson, who is hitting 45.9 percent of his field goals, including 36.0 percent of his 3-point tries (11 of 22). Senior Jon Higgins is hitting a so-so 42.6 percent from the floor but an exceptional 44.2 percent from beyond the arc.
The big disappointments to date have been two freshman guards who were supposed to bolster Tennessee's outside shooting. Stanley Asumnu is hitting just 23.7 percent overall and 17.6 percent of his 3s, while fellow rookie John Winchester is sinking just 21.1 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from beyond the arc.
"The shots are there,'' Higgins said. ''It's just a matter of me making the shots and other guys making the shots. I feel pretty good about the offense right now.''
Even if Tennessee hits half of its shots tonight, the Vols will need to be take better care of the ball than they have to date. The Big Orange has committed 143 turnovers through the first nine games, compared to opponents' 130. Because Kentucky plays stickier defense than anyone the Vols have faced, Watson will have to deal with a new level of pressure tonight.
Asked what he told Watson about facing the Wildcats, Higgins replied: ''Just to go out there and play his game. C.J.'s a pretty well-grounded young man. He's not going to get over-anxious. He's just going to go out and be him. That's all you can really ask. If they start coming at you in different types of pressures, just calm down and we'll help him through it.''
Kentucky is Game 1 of an SEC schedule that projects to be a real meatgrinder for the Vols. The league appears much tougher than normal this season.
''I think so,'' Higgins said. ''We were talking the other day that maybe seven teams could get in (the NCAA tournament). I'm counting more like eight -- Georgia, Kentucky, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss could get in, we could get in, LSU could get in. Auburn was undefeated until a couple of weeks ago, so there's no telling how many teams you're going to get in.''