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October 7, 2008
Chris Lofton (15.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg), JaJuan Smith (14.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.3 apg) and Ramar Smith (7.4 ppg, 3.2 apg) are all gone from the Vols' backcourt, so it's fair to say there is ample opportunity for playing time among the newcomers. Lofton and JaJuan Smith ranked 1-2 on the team in scoring, and the Smiths ranked 2-3 in assists.
Tyler Smith could be the best player in the SEC.
Maze will be the primary ball-handler, and he brings a little bit of experience to a six-man recruiting class (ranked seventh nationally by Rivals.com) that is composed of five freshmen and him. He played 22 games and made five starts as a freshman at Oklahoma in 2006-07, and he was a JUCO All-American last year at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. He can score and distribute, and he's not afraid to take big shots.
Hopson was ranked the No. 5 overall prospect in the 2008 class and No. 2 among shooting guards by Rivals.com. He's unlike anything the Vols have seen out of a 2-guard in recent years. At 6 feet 7 and with the first four letters of his surname fitting him perfectly, Hopson is taller, longer and more athletic than Lofton and JaJuan Smith. He's a high-flyer who can get his own shot and finish at the rim. Make no mistake, Vols fans: Hopson has one-and-done talent.
Prince gives the Vols another big guard (6-7) who can help on the boards and score at mid-range. The long-armed lefty is a tough matchup because he can get his shot over most guards and he can score from odd angles. His 8.0 points-per-game average came in only 18.8 minutes per game last season. He had 13 points and eight rebounds when Tennessee took down then-No. 1 Memphis, and he had a season-high 23 points against Xavier.
Tatum had a big offseason playing in a Knoxville summer league with most of the rest of the players on the Vols' roster. He could be the top 3-point threat for Tennessee this season.
Josh Tabb lends more depth at the guard spots, and he may be the Vols' best defender.
The centerpiece for the Vols is small forward Tyler Smith. A Big Ten All-Freshman team pick at Iowa in 2006-07, he obtained a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible immediately last season at Tennessee. He stepped right into the starting lineup and emerged as the team's best player. He was third in scoring and led the Vols in rebounding and assists. He scored in double figures in 31 of 36 games and posted six double-doubles. When coach Bruce Pearl needed a clutch basket, he turned to Tyler Smith, who showed he could face up and create his own shot. Without Lofton and JaJuan Smith, it's reasonable to believe Tyler Smith could average 17-19 points per game.
The other returning starter up front is Wayne Chism, a reliable scoring threat and the team's second-leading rebounder. OK, so he doesn't exactly like to bang on the inside very often, and 90 3-point attempts for a 6-9 forward who shoots 32 percent from the arc is probably too many. He may be the poster boy for players most dramatically affected by the 3-point line moving back a foot. His range up to 18 feet is solid, and his footwork and moves when in the post are excellent. If he spends a little less time floating behind the line, he could be a player who averages 12-13 points and 7-8 rebounds per game.
Sophomore center Brian Williams has continued to work on his conditioning and should see increased minutes. He showed flashes last season, including a 16-point, 14-rebound effort against Western Kentucky. He shot 60.3 percent and averaged 3.5 rebounds in just 11.2 minutes per game.
The Vols run a flex offense, looking for cutters along the baseline or open looks behind the arc. They also will get out in transition and run whenever possible. Tennessee led the SEC in scoring last season. In fact, no Pearl-coached team has finished lower than second in its league in scoring.
In an effort to dictate a fast pace, the Vols will pressure full court most of the time. If they're forcing turnovers they can get easy baskets and tire the opposition. Maze is a solid defender who can apply ball pressure in the way JaJuan Smith did.
Shoes to Fill
Lofton and JaJuan Smith. They take with them 211 3-pointers made from last season and a bunch of clutch shots.
Must Step Up
Chism. Tyler Smith will be the focal point, but Chism has to take some of the pressure off his running mate. For the Vols finally to get past the Sweet 16, he has to score around the basket and rebound on the defensive end.
Hopson. Pearl's system calls for the guards to score and create, both of which Hopson can do. He also can fill the lane and finish, often in spectacular fashion.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.