UT balancing act

Bruce Pearl never knows what to expect from his Tennessee Basketball Vols. But neither do Vol opponents, and that's one reason UT is 7-1 and ranked No. 9 nationally.

Nine players have posted double-figure scoring nights through the first eight games, with four of them leading the Big Orange in scoring at least once. That's the kind of balance that makes Pearl smile and makes Tennessee a very difficult team to defend.

In the old days opponents could shut down Chris Lofton and have a reasonably good chance to beat the Vols. There's no such formula in 2009-10, however, because Tennessee has so many guys capable of putting up points.

All-America forward Tyler Smith, for instance. He's more of a decoy than a dynamo some nights but he still led the Vols with 14 points in Game 4 vs. DePaul and with 15 in Game 8 vs. East Tennessee State. And he's had four other double-digit nights, including an 18-point showing in Game 6 vs. College of Charleston.

Who's picking up the slack when Smith is quiet? Just about everybody.

The list starts with Scotty Hopson. The 6-7 sophomore guard led Tennessee in scoring vs. Austin Peay (16 points), UNC Asheville (25), East Carolina (25) and College of Charleston (21).

Then there's Wayne Chism. The 6-9 senior post led Tennessee in scoring just once - recording 24 points in Game 5 with Purdue - but he also hit double-figures in Games 1, 2, 4 and 6.

First-team point guard Bobby Maze hasn't led the team in scoring yet but he produced 15 points vs. East Carolina, 13 vs. Purdue and 12 vs. Middle Tennessee.

First-team small forward Cameron Tatum hasn't led the Vols in scoring, either, but he had a 15-point outing vs. Austin Peay, a 14-point effort vs. East Carolina and a 13-point game vs. UNC Asheville.

Then there's this trio: Backup point guard Melvin Goins struck for 11 points vs. UNC Asheville. Reserve power forward Renaldo Woolridge hit the same figure in the same game. Reserve post Brian Williams scored 11 vs. College of Charleston.

Tennessee's balance was never more evident than Friday against Middle Tennessee. On a night when the team's three top scorers - Hopson (1), Smith (7) and Chism (9) - combined for just 17 points, backup small forward J.P. Prince scored a team-high 17 all by himself.

Freshman guard Skylar McBee is likely to become the 10th Vol to score in double figures this season. He just missed that level vs. ETSU, hitting 3 of 3 shots from beyond the arc and scoring 9 points in 12 relief minutes.

Balance may not carry Tennessee to an SEC title or a berth in the Elite Eight but it already has carried the Vols to a 7-1 record and a spot in the top 10.

Here's a game-by-game recap of UT's double-figure scoring:

Austin Peay: Hopson 16, Tatum 15, Smith 14, Chism 11

UNC Asheville: Hopson 25, Tatum 13, Chism 11, Goins 11, Woolridge 11

East Carolina: Hopson 25, Maze 15, Tatum 14, Smith 13

DePaul: Smith 14, Chism 13

Purdue: Chism 24, Maze 13, Smith 10

Charleston: Hopson 21, Smith 18, Chism 11, Williams 11

East Tennessee State: Smith 15, Hopson 10

Middle Tennessee: Prince 17, Maze 12

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