SCOUTING THE VOLUNTEERS
The Volunteers are led by consensus All-American Chris Lofton (Sr., 6-2, 200 lbs.), but he certainly isn't a one-man show for the orange-clad Volunteers. Lofton, who is a candidate for just about every award in the nation, is a deadly shooter who got off to a bit of a slow start this season, but warmed up in the Vols' thrashing of Middle Tennessee State, hitting on five of his eight three-point attempts. He averages 11.5 points and four assists per game, and is simply one of the best players in the country.
Teaming with Lofton in the Vols' three-guard set are JaJuan Smith and Jordan Howell. Smith (Sr., 6-2, 195 lbs.) leads the team in scoring with a 17.3 points per game average, and while he certainly benefits from the defensive attention paid to Lofton, he is an excellent player in his own right. He leads the team in steals and three point shot attempts. Howell (Sr., 6-3, 190 lbs.) leads the team in assists, but isn't the scoring or shooting threat that his teammates are. He distributes the ball well, but has played less than 20 minutes per game this year.
The frontcourt features a pair of active and lengthy players in the form of Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism. Smith (So., 6-7, 215 lbs.) is doing his damage from close range, and is making almost 68% of his shots from the field while averaging 12.5 points per game. Chism is the rebounding force, tallying 6.5 boards while collecting nearly as many caroms on the offensive end (12) as he has on the defensive side (14).
Off the bench, guard Ramar Smith (the third Smith in the Vols' rotation), has started three of four UT games this year. He averages 12 points per game, but has had some trouble with ball securing, committing a team leading 10 turnovers. An 8-21 mark from the free throw line has also contributed to Smith's (So., 6-2, 200 lbs.) move to a backup role. Ryan Childress (Jr., 6-9, 235 lbs.) provides relief work on the front line, chipping in with a solid 6.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in just 17 minutes of time per game. Duke Crews (So., 6-7, 230 lbs.) also contributes in the paint, with averages of 6.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
|Fri Nov 23
WVU 2-0, 0-0
UT 4-0, 0-0
|Sirius Channel: 114|
WVU will also face a difficult challenge on its own defensive end. Tennessee can drive the ball to the basket and finish at the rim, but it also possesses deadly outside shooters in the form of Lofton, Howell, and JaJuan Smith, so kickouts for long range shots off drives are usually available. Tennessee also does an excellent job of spacing those shooters around the perimeter, so closing out on them after falling back inside to help cut off penetration will be a problem.
For West Virginia to come out with a win, the Mountaineers will obviously have to shoot well, but it also can't fall prey to the malady that the women's team did on Wednesday evening against UT. The men must be aggressive from the outset, and not settle for three-point hoists from the perimeter. Nichols must drive the lane. Jamie Smalligan must battle with ferocity. Da'Sean Butler and Joe Alexander have to play with maximum passion on every trip, especially on the defensive end. Each loose ball must be a battle, each rebound opportunity the steak to a hungry dog.
Tennessee can deploy waves of long, athletic, high jumping players (11 Vols have averaged at least 13 minutes per game this season) so this game will also be a huge challenge for players such as Jacob Green and John Flowers. They will have to help offset UT's anticipated advantage in the paint and minimize the Vols' second chance points.
WVU: Cam Thoroughman (Knee) Out
UT: Duke Crews (Ankle) Probable, Brian Williams (Hip) Questionable
While West Virginia has built its success of the past few seasons on the three-pointer, the Vols haven't been far behind. Tennessee has led the SEC in three-point field goals per game in each of the last two seasons. Lofton is the league's top three-point shooter over the past two seasons, making 3.80 as a sophomore and 3.42 as a junior. Right behind him is JaJuan Smith, who was fifth in the SEC with 2.54 3-pointers per game a year ago. UT's 327 3-pointers last season were the most in school history. West Virginia also set a school record a year ago, canning 371 three-pointers.
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WVU has won 14-straight games against non-Big East teams and 19 of its last 20 non-league games. Included in that streak is WVU's five-game run to the NIT title last March. West Virginia is 33-6 against non-conference teams in regular season games in the last four seasons.
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Tennessee's pressure defense isn't confined to its press. The Vols play tight defense no matter where the ball is on the floor – including opponents' out of bounds plays. UT forced 182 turnovers off inbounds plays last year, and is continuing that trend this season. West Virginia, in a total reversal of form, has attacked the basket off inbounds plays under Bob Huggins, so this matchup should be an interesting one to watch.
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Tennessee got an early start to the 2007-08 basketball season when it took an 11-day tour of Central Europe in August. Playing professional teams from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria, UT recorded a 4-1 mark.