Vol lineup quandary

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl is never at a loss for words. Well ... almost never.

When asked following a long and spirited Monday evening practice about the Vols' small-forward situation, the coach actually began to sputter.

"I think it's going to continue to ... to continue to ... I don't know," he said, pausing thoughtfully before adding: "Right now they both play better coming off the bench."

Maybe the coach should go with a four-man starting lineup because he's exactly right. Both Cameron Tatum and J.P. Prince seem to be more effective as a sixth man than as a first-teamer.

Prince, a 6-8 senior, started the first five games at small forward but struggled mightily, making just 5 of 16 shots (31.2 percent) and averaging a mere 2.4 points per game. Conversely, Tatum, a 6-6 sophomore, made 21 of 33 shots (63.6 percent) and averaged 11.6 points per game coming off the bench in the first five outings.

Pearl decided to reverse their roles in Game 6, giving Tatum the start and giving Prince some time to reflect on the bench. The move accomplished little, however, as the reserve again outplayed the starter. Tatum produced just 6 points, 3 rebounds and an assist in 22 minutes, while Prince came off the bench to score 8 points, grab 6 rebounds and dish out 2 assists in 18 minutes.

As a result, who'll start Wednesday night against East Tennessee State remains up in the air. Speaking of up in the air, that's where Prince found himself midway through Monday's practice, and the tumble that ensued nearly gave the starting job to Tatum be default.

Biting on a head fake by walk-on point guard Josh Bone, Prince soared to try and block the anticipated layup attempt. Bone did not leave his feet, however, and Prince flipped awkwardly over Bone's back and landed with a thud on the Pratt Pavilion floor.

After several minutes on the floor, Prince was helped to the training room. He returned moments later with a bandage on his chin and an ice pack wrapped around his waist. After watching probably 30 minutes of action, however, he returned to practice and showed no ill effects of the fall.

HOT SHOOTING VOLS: Tennessee is shooting a strong 51.3 percent from the floor and 45.5 percent from beyond the arc this season. Tatum leads at 63.2 percent, followed by Tyler Smith (58.7), Scotty Hopson (58.1), Brian Williams (57.7), Wayne Chism (53.6), Renaldo Woolridge (53.3) and Kenny Hall (50.0). Bobby Maze is shooting a half-decent 42.9 percent. Only Melvin Goins (37.1), Prince (36.4) and Skylar McBee (31.8) are struggling.

When asked about the hot shooting, Pearl quipped: "I always say, 'If you're shooting 50 percent, shoot more. If you're shooting less than 50 percent, shoot less. You decide.

"Either get to shooting better or shoot less."


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