Awful to awesome

Going from worst to first is quite an accomplishment. Going from worst to first in one year is borderline miraculous.

That's what the Tennessee Basketball Vols have done, however, in terms of their 3-point shooting.

Bruce Pearl's troops ranked dead last among the 12 SEC teams in 3-point shooting last season at 31.5 percent. This season, with essentially the same cast as last year, they lead the SEC at 43.8 percent.

Characterizing the 3-point shooting as "way up," Pearl added: "Last year we struggled from 3, and right now we're in the top 10 in the country in 3-point percentage."

Although he's pleased by the dramatic rise in long-range shooting, Pearl concedes that several factors are involved, including the level of Tennessee's pre-conference competition.

"I think it's a combination of a lot of things," he said. "Part of it is that we've seen our share of zone defense. Against zone, we have a number of guys that shoot the ball very, very well in space, particularly our guards.

"When you start seeing more man-to-man and more pressed-up defenses - like we saw against DePaul and Purdue - will you continue to shoot the same percentage, being a little bit more closely guarded?"

Probably not. Tennessee made 47.7 percent of its 3-point tries (51 of 107) against Austin Peay, UNC Asheville, East Carolina, College of Charleston and East Tennessee State. Conversely, the Vols made just 25 percent (3 of 12) vs. DePaul and 27.3 percent (3 of 11) vs. Purdue.

"We did not shoot the ball well from 3 against those opponents," Pearl noted, "so I think it (imposing 3-point percentage) is more a function of the opponents and the fact we've seen zone."

That certainly appears to be the case for Scotty Hopson. After shooting 35.7 percent from beyond the arc last year, the 6-7 sophomore is hitting treys at a sizzling 54.3 clip this year. He was 0-4 against DePaul and 0-2 against Purdue, however.

Sophomore Cameron Tatum and freshman Skylar McBee seem less affected by man-to-man defense. Tatum, who made 32.1 percent from 3 last year, is hitting 52.6 percent this year. He was 0-1 against DePaul but 1-2 against Purdue. McBee, who is shooting 42.9 percent from 3, went 2-3 against DePaul and 0-1 against Purdue.

Two inside players who fired up a bunch of 3s last season have cut back noticeably this season. After launching 128 treys in 2008-09, an average of nearly four per game, Wayne Chism has attempted just 12 in seven games this season - making five for a 41.7 percentage. And Tyler Smith, who attempted nearly three per game last season, has attempted just one 3 so far this season.

Obviously, Tennessee will face tougher competition once the SEC schedule begins in January. Still, hitting 43.8 percent from 3 is strong, no matter who the opponent is and how little it is contesting outside shots.

"The guys HAVE knocked 'em down," Pearl noted. "I think we worked hard in the offseason to be able to make open shots, which will help any offense. But there will be fewer open shots against better opponents, particularly the teams that play more man to man."

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