Who needs Tyler?

Tyler Smith was averaging just 11.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game when he was dismissed Jan. 8 from the Tennessee basketball team. So, when the Vols beat top-ranked Kansas two days later without him, some giddy fans quipped, "Who needs Tyler Smith?"

The answer: Tennessee does.

While the Vols have not imploded since Smith's dismissal - as many observers expected - the team clearly misses his experience and versatility.

For instance, the 6-7 power forward paced Tennessee in assists as a junior in 2008-09 and was leading in 2009-10 at the time of his dismissal. The Vols miss that dimension because point guards Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins are more about putting up shots than setting up others.

"Melvin and Bobby are both scoring point guards; they really are," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "They're not playmaking point guards as their primary (skill).... Scotty (Hopson) has not been a playmaker. He's got one assist per game in the SEC. He can make plays for himself."

Now that Tyler Smith is gone, Tennessee has just one guy who excels at getting shots for others.

"That's where J.P. (Prince) is so important," Pearl said, "because he is more of a playmaker."

The Vols also miss Tyler Smith's scoring abilities. Even at 11.7 points per game, he was contributing considerably more than the guys who replaced him. Renaldo Woolridge is averaging just 3.9 points per game and Steven Pearl 1.3. Smith was hitting 57.3 percent from the field at the time of his dismissal; Woolridge is hitting a mere 36.9.

"We need better play from the 4," Bruce Pearl noted of the power forward spot once manned by Smith. "We're not getting enough productivity there. That said, it's awfully tough to ask for that when you're playing against Patrick Patterson or Trey Thompkins. Still, that's going to be a factor for us. Somebody needs to step forward."

Tennessee has lost twice this season to Vanderbilt, a team Smith burned for 18 and 30 points last season. The Vols also lost at Georgia, a place where Tyler scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds a year ago. Clearly, UT missed him in those three games.

Obviously, Smith's dismissal has hurt Tennessee's depth. A program that used to fluster foes with fullcourt defense no longer can afford to press. A program that used to pile up points in transition no longer has enough proven reserves to set a fast tempo.

"You would (run) if we had greater depth or a little more quickness, but we don't," Pearl said. "As relates to our depth, we've got three players where there's a dropoff when you go to the bench. Tempo, foul trouble and those things are an issue for us because the quality of our depth isn't where it needs to be."

Basically, the quality of Tennessee's depth hasn't been "where it needs to be" since Jan. 8.

Given the gravity of Tyler Smith's mistakes, dismissing him from the team can be justified. Dismissing his value to the team cannot be.

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