Crump's a key for Vols

Statistics can be deceiving but sometimes they can be illuminating. Case in point: Heading into the SEC basketball tournament, Tennessee's basketball team stands 6-0 when Brandon Crump scores 15 points or more.

Crump has had three of his top scoring efforts against weak opponents -- 15 vs. Gardner-Webb, 16 vs. UT-Martin and 18 vs. Vanderbilt. But he has had the other three against top 25-caliber opponents -- 16 vs. Georgia, 19 vs. Florida and 16 vs. Mississippi State.

Clearly, when Crump plays well, Tennessee is capable of beating just about anyone. Thus, his perormance will be a key in Friday's SEC Tournament quarterfinals, when the Vols (17-10) face Auburn (19-10) at 9:45 p.m. EST in a battle of NCAA bubble teams.

Asked if he has conveyed the importance of a big effort this weekend to his 6-10, 235-pound sophomore post player, UT's Buzz Peterson shook his head.

''Crump knows that; I don't have to tell him,'' the head coach said. ''What we saw against Vanderbilt when (Ron) Slay went out was what we saw from Crump at the beginning of the year. He took over. That's what we need for him to do -- get that mean streak, that hungry streak where he will attack the goal.

''We need Brandon to have big games for us.''

The Vols probably will need a bigger game from Crump than he had the last time Tennessee and Auburn squared off. The towering Texan produced a so-so 10-point, 6-rebound effort as the Vols won 60-57 in the regular-season meeting at Auburn.

Crump's play looms large in the rematch since the Tigers boast one of the SEC's premier frontlines. Kyle Davis is a 6-10, 235-pounder who ranks as the league's best shot-blocker. Marco Killingsworth is a 6-7, 235-pound bruiser and Marquis Daniels is a 6-6, 200-pounder who can do a little bit of everything. The Tigers have another quality frontcourt player in 6-8, 215-pound reserve Brandon Robinson.

''Auburn is a very good basketball club,'' Peterson said. ''Daniels is a heck of a talent, one of the better players in this league. He's very good one-on-one and very savvy. That's why the NBA scouts like him so much. Killingsworth is a strong body inside. Robinson hurt us last time on the boards, and Kyle Davis is a tremendous shot-blocker.''

Despite Auburn's talent at the center and forward spots, Tennessee outrebounded the Tigers 33-24 in the earlier meeting. The Vols were particularly adept at keeping Auburn off the offensive backboard.

''One thing we did well against them the first time was box out,'' Peterson said. ''We only gave up five offensive rebounds. That's a key against them; don't give them the second and third chances. Our guys have got to continue to do that, make contact on the box-outs.''

Although Tennessee is considered a darkhorse in this tournament, Peterson thinks his team has a legitimate shot at winning the title. He believes getting a first-round bye due to Georgia's withdrawal from the event is a big boost in this quest.

''We want to do well in this SEC Tournament,'' he said. ''Not since 1990-91 has there been a Tennessee team in the semifinals, and we only have to win one game to get in there. That's something this team really wants to accomplish -- to beat Auburn, play whoever it is the next game and win a championship. ''It's much easier to win three games than it is to win four, so getting a bye was really good. Our focus now is to win the SEC Tournament ... or do very well in the tournament.''

With Kentucky likely to be Tennessee's semifinal opponent, I don't see the Vols winning the tourament. Still, I see them doing well enough to win their opener and lock up an NCAA Tournament bid.

My pick: Tennessee 67, Auburn 62.


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