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OPPONENT: Tennessee will be looking for revenge against the Buckeyes in Knoxville Saturday at 3:30. Ohio State beat Tennessee twice last year, by a combined 3 points, in two of the most competitive games seen last season and this year's game sold out in less than 30 minutes. Tennessee's arena seats over 21,000 fans, so you know how important this game is to their program.
Of course the Volunteers are lead by one of the most colorful coaches (see photo right) in Bruce Pearl. I really like Bruce Pearl and his ability to sweat through an undershirt, dress shirt, tie and blazer while on national television. Pearl is in his 3rd year at Knoxville and is looking for his fifteenth 20 win season in sixteen years of coaching. He also pimps himself pretty well on his website, CoachPearl.com.
The Volunteer full court press killed Ohio State last year and with almost everyone returning from that team, one can expect the same style of play. Tenn. will look to trap only if the ball is inbounded to the corner and then fall off into a man defense. Thad had to bring Greg Oden up to help break the press last year, so I expect him to use Kosta or Othello in similar fashion today, but hopefully it is earlier than later.
Tennessee is fourth nationally in scoring offense at 86.3 points a game, but rank 82nd in field goal shooting at 46.6 percent. If you remember anything about Tenn. from last year, it should be their love for the deep shot. Once again, Bruce has his team shooting three's at a rapid rate, ranking 8th nationally at 9.6 makes per game (154 of 434).
The Vols are not a good rebounding team, grabbing just over 37 a game, with 14.4 of those coming on the offensive glass. With all the experience on the floor, it is no surprise this team takes care of the rock, turning it over only 12.5 times a game to go against 20.1 assists and over 11 steals. They are licking their chops at the sight of David Lighty and Evan Turner-over coming to play.
KEY PLAYERS: Tennessee's season has been impressive thus far, with wins over Temple, Xavier, West Virginia, Gonzaga, Univ. of Miss. and most recently Vanderbilt, with their only loss coming to Texas November 24th. They will run mainly 8 players at Ohio State, looking to extend their current winning streak to 11 games and their home winning streak to 25.
Tennessee will start 3 senior guards and 2 sophomore big men. Chris Lofton (#5 6'2" Sr.), JuJuan Smith (#2 6'2" Sr.) and Jordan Howell (#15 6'3" Sr.) will lead the 3 point barrage coming Ohio State's direction.
Lofton was a preseason All-American selection, but has struggled shooting this year and his scoring average is down to 13.5 points a game. He is playing less minutes (28/game) and shooting 34.3 percent from the floor, but is enjoying a career high 2.6 assists per game. Amazingly, 135 of his 183 field goal attempts have been from behind the arc, explaining his poor shooting year.
Smith is leading this team in scoring at 14.9 points a game in only 26 minutes. He also loves to launch from deep, as 119 of his 175 FG attempts have been from there, while also chipping in with 3.1 caroms and 2.6 assists per contest. Howell replaces that Bradshaw kid from last year as the token white senior starter, scoring 7.2 points and dishing out 2.9 assists per game. His percentage of field goals from deep is even more remarkable, as only 9 of his 75 attempts this year are from inside the arc.
You may remember Tyler Smith (#1 6'7" So.) from last year, an all freshmen selection from the Big Ten. He received a special exemption from the NCAA, allowing him a return home to Tennessee from Iowa, as his father was very ill. He has made an instant impact, leading this team in shooting (57%), assists (3.6) and steals (2), while ranking second in scoring and rebounding at 13.3 and 5.6 per game respectively.
Wayne Chism (#4 6'9" So.) has also been impressive lately, recording 18 points and 18 rebounds in their win over Vandy Thursday night. On the year, he is scoring 8.5 a game (double digits in 4 of last 5) and leading the team in boards at 5.9 a game. Ohio State may want to foul him every time, as he only shoots 37.9 percent (11-29) from the charity stripe.
Bruce's main three reserves will be Ramar Smith (#12 6'2" So.), J.P. Prince (#30 6'7" So.) and Ryan Childress (#34 6'9" Jr.). Prince made his debut with the team seven games ago and has helped this team tremendously. He is scoring 11.3 points, gathering 3.9 boards and dishing out 2.1 assists a game. Smith and Childress will give the Vols almost 13 points, 6 boards and 5 assists in combined action
NOTES: The Vols home winning streak of 25 is the 5th longest in the nation... Bruce Pearl ranks 3rd amongst active coaches in career winning percentage at 78.4 percent (377-104)... Tennessee is 41-4 under Pearl, when scoring 80 or more points... The Volunteer school loves to recognize current coaches, as this game will be played on "Summit Court" in an arena that sits on Phillip Fulmer Way and yes, Gravy Boats are available at concession stands.
BUCKEYE BREAKDOWN: Ohio State is playing their third road game this week and will look to get back on the winning track, but it will take their best effort in order to accomplish that feat. The baby Buckeyes took it on the chin at Purdue and Michigan St. after starting the conference season 3-0 for the first time since 1991. This will be there last non-conference game.
Sometimes I forget how spoiled we were last year with OSU's freshmen and simply how much Thad lost from that team. This week has seen a return of Ohio State's shooting woes, as they connected on only 38 percent of their shots (44-116) and an even more dismal 12-46 from deep (26%). Another disappointing aspect of their poor shooting is the lack of offensive rebounding, as Ohio State has managed to grab only 16 of their 72 missed shots.
I watched a little bit of Tennessee against Vandy the other night and I really do believe Ohio State can pull off a victory, if they can do a couple of things. Tennessee is small and will give Ohio State open shots, so this could be the game their shooting can get back on track. Tennessee still takes crazy shots and Ohio State will need to take advantage of opportunities when these shots are off target.
Also, Tennessee likes to run a high flex and weave style offense, so Ohio State will not have to chase the Vols around all day, saving energy for offense and suckering Tennessee into 3point shots all day. If the Vols are cold from downtown and Ohio State can control the rebounds, they can pull this off. I am not worried too much about Tennessee's press, throw it in to Koufos or Hunter and then back to Butler, the defense will then fall back to half court.
KEY PLAYERS: Once again, I feel I should just put Jamar Butler's name here and walk away. He is in a great battle with D.J. White of Indiana for the conference player of the year, but obviously needs his teammates to step up in order to win that award. Jamar scored the last 14 points at Michigan State, the 3rd time this year he has scored 12 or more consecutive points in a game. Jamar also scored his 1,000th career point against MSU and set a another school record, by hitting his 31st straight free throw.
A couple of 11W readers brought up the point of P.J. Hill playing a bit more and moving Jamar over to the 2 spot. I believe this is going to be the case Saturday, as mentioned Tennessee is small and quick, so P.J. should get some minutes to help control the turnovers. This will take pressure off Jamar, as teams have dogged him full court recently.
It has been a tough week for Koufos, Lighty and Diebler. All have seen their scoring and field goal averages dip, as they combined to shoot 15 of 52. Diebler is 4 of 23 from threeland in his last four games, including a current 0-14 slump. Hopefully he went and got him a Slump Buster. If Kosta applies himself all game, he could reach a double-double.
NOTES: Thad Matta is 4th on the active winning list at 77 percent (195-58)... Butler is the 43rd Buckeye to reach the 1,000 point mark, with all-time leader Dennis Hopson sitting at 2,096... The game will be televised on CBS.