Scotty's scoring

Seven games into the 2009-10 basketball season one Tennessee Vol has proven that he is a great scorer ... against not-so-great opponents.

Sophomore Scotty Hopson's team-best 15.3 points-per-game average loses a little luster when you break it down. He scored 97 points against mid majors Austin Peay (16), UNC Asheville (25), East Carolina (25), College of Charleston (21) and East Tennessee State (10) - an average of 19.4 per game. He scored a mere 13 points against high majors DePaul (4) and Purdue (9), an average of just 6.5 per game.

Moreover, Hopson's shooting percentages vs. the high majors - 27.8 from the floor (5 of 18) and 00.0 from 3 (0 of 6) - pale alongside the numbers he has put up against mid majors - 60.3 from the floor (35 of 58) and 65.5 from 3 (19 of 29).

Does that mean he can't be productive against the better teams on Tennessee's schedule? No. It just means he hasn't done so yet. And, until he does, the jury's still out on who the Vols' best scorer will be.

"When you play the best teams on your schedule, everybody's challenged," head coach Bruce Pearl noted, "and it's your best players that wind up carrying the load. For example, the best team we played so far was Purdue, and Wayne Chism stepped up in a big way (24 points). Wayne is third on the team in scoring right now (11.9 ppg) but he was first against the best team we've played."

Fellow senior Tyler Smith, who averaged 17.4 points per game last year, is averaging just 13.3 this year. He's likely to pick up the scoring pace once the Vols begin facing quality programs such as Memphis, Kansas and their SEC rivals.

As Pearl noted: "I wouldn't necessarily look at the stats and say, 'Because Scotty's leading us in scoring, he will lead us in scoring.' If Scotty can lead us in scoring against the best teams on our schedule that'll usually be who's going to wind up leading us. I don't think you can say right now.

"Is there a pretty good chance it's either going to be Scotty, Wayne or Tyler? I'd say yeah, there's a pretty good chance that one of those three guys will lead us in scoring. But we'll have to stay tuned."

Despite the disparity between Hopson's numbers vs. mid-major and high-major competition, Pearl is quite pleased with the 6-7 sophomore's progress this season.

"He's shot the ball very well from outside when he's been open," the coach said. "He's gotten to the foul line a little bit more. Offensively, he looks very, very comfortable (in terms of) the decisions he's making on when he's shooting and when he's taking the ball to the basket."

Hopson is taking the ball to the basket but not always reaching his destination. He has been guilty of 17 turnovers through the first seven games.

"He does lead us in turnovers, and that's something he's going to have to be mindful of," Pearl said. "I'd like to see Scotty make sure those turnovers are forced. If Tyler's got 26 assists and five turnovers, and Scotty's got 13 assists and 17 turnovers, how many of those 17 are forced?"

Hopson gained 18 pounds since last season, going from 185 to 203. Still, he needs to be stronger going to the rim.

"I'd like to see him being stronger with the basketball and finishing what he starts," Pearl said. "I like what he starts. I like when he's taking it to the hole. I like the decisions he's made. Now, the end results? I'd like to see him finish it more, turn it over less and get to the foul line more. Can he do those three things?"

On a positive note, Hopson appears more assertive than a year ago. When ETSU whittled Tennessee's lead to 61-55 with six minutes left in Game 7, he drained a clutch 3-pointer and a 10-footer from the lane as the shot-clock was dwindling to save the day. He would not have taken those shots a year ago.

"Last year he certainly deferred to the upperclassmen, the guys that returned," Pearl conceded. "People thought he was a little hesitant or unsure of himself. I thought he was a freshman, an unselfish player respecting the guys that returned. I think in the offseason he said, 'OK, if we're going to have a better year, I've got to step up and do more - offensively and defensively.'

"I think he has been more assertive. He leads us in shots attempted, leads us in 3-point shots attempted. He's rebounding the ball better than he did a year ago. He's got more assists, more turnovers and more steals. He's become a much more productive player."

Now he just needs to start being as productive against the high majors as he is against the mid majors.

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