Posts Tagged ‘Brian Williams’

Signs of Improvement

The View From the Hill | Gate 21

Thanks Kentucky?

After the utter embarrassment of watching one guy score 54 points on you in your own arena - something that won't stop being talked about this year, so get used to it - Tennessee has made a bit of a bounce-back. Now beating South Carolina was pretty much expected. Last night though? Keep in mind last year's team - the best in school history - lost in Memorial Gym.

I know Vandy lost Shan Foster and they are lacking in athletes, but I never got the feeling watching the DVRed game (intramural hoops game at 10 pm...) late Tuesday night that the Vols were going to lose. Perhaps the Kentucky loss truly was the wake-up call that can get this team playing to its potential...

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="192" caption="No doubt Wayne loves playing Vandy"][/caption]

From the hot start courtesy of Wayne Chism to the constant answers to any signs of a run that Vandy made, that was a very solid win for Tennessee last night. Much was made of the players' only meeting following last week's loss to Kentucky during the ESPN telecast, and I think it's safe to say it's had some sort of effect on this team.

Now there have been moments of poor play. Many will point out nearly blowing a 15-point lead to South Carolina late. I don't get too caught up in games like that where one team dominates and the team trailing makes a late run to make it really close. If not for Teddy Valentine and Co., the Chickens probably aren't within 20 at half anyways. Wayne has as many points as I did, and I was in the student section.

Speaking of Wayne, Vanderbilt and softy A.J. Ogilvy are his biotches. 20 points, 7 boards, and a sweet T last night, and he was really the spark plug, even though he didn't start. Kudos to Bruce (yes, he can actually coach people) for realizing Wayne's recent history of early foul trouble in Nashville and not starting him. Brian Williams filled in nicely in both games, as Carolina had nobody big enough to keep him off the glass and Ogilvy might be softer than the softest of the softy big-men, Pau Gasol. Going back to Chism's technical, if Vandy was normal and put their benches on the sidelines like everyone else, I really highly doubt he gets T'ed up. Plus, he was just yelling in Kevin Stallings' face...Stallings deserves it...

Tyler Smith has had slow starts in each of his last two games, but has been dominant in the second half of the past two games. That's good to see from the team's leader - it was mentioned during the ESPN telecast that Tyler had made a point that he needed to watch his facial expressions/body language, aware of its effects on his teammates. I thought that was interesting and it's good to see.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="198" caption="More of this please, Mr. Hopson"][/caption]

The two biggest stories from these past two outings have undoubtedly been the improved defense and Scotty Hopson gaining some confidence. I believe Devan Downey had four points at half in that game, and most of Carolina's points came from the foul line (as I mentioned before, that was a poorly officiated game). Vandy couldn't throw it in the ocean from the beach last night, but Tennessee's defense had something to do with that.

You may have also noticed that Tennessee hardly pressed either Carolina or Vandy. I know it's a Bruce Pearl staple and all that, but given this group's past defensive issues, if not pressing continues to help improve the halfcourt defense, I'm not sure we'll see the press this year - at all.

I had said on numerous occasions that Hopson had been settling too many times for an outside shot and needed to attack and do what he's clearly the best at doing - getting to the rim. He has done that these past two games, and you can see him gaining some confidence offensively. His development is crucial in the ceiling of this team, so hopefully he can build on these past two performances going forward.

The Vols now get set for a big week - Memphis, LSU and Florida, all home games (which of course I love). The Memphis game is always one I personally circle every year - for reasons I'll explain tomorrow - and LSU is rolling, having won three SEC games in a row in routs, and Florida is Florida. Obviously these three games are all crucial, and they won't be easy. Hopefully, however, the glimpses of improvement the guys have shown the past two games will continue.


There's More!

Shame on me for neglecting the exciting things that have been going on with Tennessee football the past however long it's been since I posted about them last. Obviously the staff has now been completed, as you are very well aware of by now. I won't go too in-depth on each of the new coaches, but what can you say? Lane Kiffin told us to be patient - and he delivered.

Stealing Lance Thompson from Nick Saban and Alabama was quite the joy, because (a) he can recruit and (b) we stole him from Alabama. The recruiting ability of this staff is without a doubt just ridiculous. Whether or not these guys - outside of Monte - can actually coach is still to be seen, but I see absolutely no reason for any Tennessee to not be absolutely excited about the future of Tennessee football with this staff.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="330" caption="I saw him! I finally saw him!"][/caption]

The recruiting work these guys have put in in just a couple of weeks is something I have never seen before. And the scary and exciting thing is that they have been making waves as well - getting visits from committed prospects and getting in on players who had been unknowns under the previous staff. Give these guys a full year to do this? How can you not be pumped out of your mind about the future of Tennessee football?

On a bit of a side note, I did actually see Lane Kiffin at the South Carolina game - with the rest of the staff and the recruits as they paraded in during first half media timeout - and can confirm his existence. Prior to that I honestly wasn't even sure if the man existed, seeing as I had never seen the guy around campus or introduced at basketball game I attended - at all. Seriously, he could have been an imaginary puppet figure for all I knew. But hey, when he's busy traveling all over the country recruiting, I can take never seeing the guy.

These next two weekends of official visits will be just amazing. Quite possibly the two biggest weekends that I've remembered since I began following recruiting a few years ago. Hopefully the hoops guys can win and make the atmosphere leave an impression on these guys. They think the crowd is passionate about their basketball team? This is a football school after all...

All of that said, amidst the excitement, let's temper things a bit. I'm expecting at least a consensus top 15 class this year, and anything would be gravy, given the coaching change and getting in late with most/all of these prospects. As for next season, yes, I know the schedule's manageable: the four non-conference games should be gimmes, add in the annual November punching bags (Dores and Cats) and winnable home games against Auburn and South Carolina and you have 8 wins right there. Yes, I'm getting WAY ahead of myself...

Eight wins seem pretty doable, but we know we have a ways to go and that it's going to take time. Lane asked us to be patient in the hiring of his staff and he delivered. I suggest we be patient in letting Lane and Co. build this thing back to a championship level. Can they do it? I think they can and I certainly don't think I'm in the minority - but it's going to take time.

Let's just let them do their work, heaven knows they've been doing it tirelessly the past few weeks...

GO VOLS!

-- About Home Sweet Home... ... to me.


Images Courtesy of: Mark Humphrey / (AP) DaylifeAmy Smotherman Burgess / KNS

Off to Nashville…

The View From the Hill | Gate 21

Marquette-Tennessee Mini-Preview

As I mentioned Sunday, I am about to head up a possibly icy I-40 to Nashville (from Memphis) to watch the SEC-Big East Invitational, which of course includes the Vols, off the rather embarrassing loss at Temple Saturday, and Baldy's Commodores (unfortunately, I'll be there someday as well).

If you thought Temple was good, there's plenty of reason to think Marquette is plenty better. The Golden Eagles, out of the Big East (although I wouldn't call Milwaukee as being in the East), are 8-1, with a notable win over Wisconsin at home, and a loss to Dayton in Chicago in a preseason tournament.

All you basically need to know about Marquette are the three outstanding guards: Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews. James has seemingly been there forever, and turned down the NBA Draft last year to return. Matthews is the leading scorer at just under 20 ppg, and actually second on the team in rebounds (6 rpg). McNeal is the second-leading scorer and is also averaging 5 boards/game. Though it might seem that Marquette has no inside game, Lazar Hayward does average a double-double at only 6-foot-6. That said, the only players taller than 6'8'' on the roster have played as many minutes as I have this year (that would be zero).

So obviously Tennessee should be able to exploit Marquette inside, right? Well, the recent play of Brian Williams and Wayne Chism should have you a little nervous if you're a Tennessee fan. Those two have to come to play tonight and control the boards and take advantage of the lack of defenders that are bigger than they are.

Now I don't mean to throw Big Baby and Weezy (Chism's an asthmatic) under the bus since the recent struggles haven't been totally their fault. The perimeter defense will be under quite a bit of pressure tonight with those Marquette guards. Don't expect too much press tonight, or at least I don't. I know it's a staple of Tennessee under Bruce Pearl, but I have little reason to think Marquette will have too much trouble with it.

Another thing to point out is that after James, McNeal, Hayward, and Matthews, the next player in ppg is Maurice Acker, who has scored in double figures all of once this year. Marquette does go 9-deep, but there isn't much scoring after the big four. I also don't expect J.P. Prince to play either.

This should be a home game for Tennessee for all intents and purposes, and it provides a great chance to repair the damaged reputation from Saturday's blowout loss to Temple. Hopefully I'll have some photos and videos from tonight's game that I can put up here. I will not say that I'm expecting a Tennessee loss because I never, ever pick against Tennessee or think our hoops team will absolutely 100% lose a game (football...not so much...), but this will be a very tough test for the Vols. Nevertheless, it should be a fun game to watch and be at, so obviously I'm looking forward to that

GO VOLS!!

It’s Almost Basketball Time in Tennessee

The View From the Hill | Gate 21

Finally!

Well, for some it's been basketball season since about mid-September. But after a busy last spring - Ramar Smith/Duke Crews, the Hopson commitment and the Maze coup - and preseason - taking Negedu off Arizona's hands, D-West's unfortunate issues, and bum shoulders and bum academics - your defending SEC champs open up the 2008-08 season in the beautiful Thompson-Boling Arena tonight - an off football Saturday (thankfully) at that - against Chattanooga.

Because my creativity is pretty limited and honestly I'm still not fully into basketball mode, I'm going to take a shortcut with my hoops preview - a list. But unlike this list, it's going to be a nice one, and twice as long. Yes, that's 10 things and players I'm looking forward to/expecting from the always entertaining bunch of Bruce Pearl...

1. Back-to-back?

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="204" caption="This Tyler's team"][/caption]

Flashback to March 5th of last year. The Vols, trailing early to red-hot Florida in Gainesville while Mississippi State leads Vandy in Nashville, look poised to go from #1 in the country to a tie for the SEC title in just a week. Now I don't know about anybody else, but I don't like to share. Sharing - and tying for that matter - is stupid. I wanted the SEC all to Tennessee. I wanted a t-shirt (and a 1-seed). Who cares if the SEC was "down"? An SEC title is an SEC title.

Well then this and this happened. Tennessee got that title, its first in 41 years. Now, heading into this season, the Vols on paper are the favorites to repeat. Florida will likely provide the biggest challenge, but the Gates are young inside. Kentucky lost to VMI - yes, VMI - last night, and have to deal without Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley. They do Patrick Patterson, but it didn't help last night...

Vanderbilt lost their team Shan Foster, but Aussie-softee A.J. Ogilvy is back. South Carolina has a new coach (Darrin Horn) and Devan Downey, but that's a big turnaround. Georgia is not good at basketball (SEC Tournament = fluke). Even Buzz owned UGA. The West? I have no clue, so don't ask.

So while going back-to-back isn't gonna be easy, it could/should very well happen.

2. Being Sweet is nice and all, but Elite is, well, it's better...

In Bruce Pearl's first year, it was any sign of not being mediocre. In his second year, it was advancing past the second round (yes, I include Mike Conley and Greg Oden in the same light as Matt Mauck and Steven Hill). Last year, it was winning the SEC. Going along the natural progression, shouldn't this be the hump-overcoming year to the Elite Eight?

The common thought is that this year's group should be the opposite of last year's team that faded at the end. This year's team may struggle at first with the many new parts, but come tournament time, they could be real good. Now obviously there's a whole season and who knows what the matchups will be (hopefully nicer than last year), but this is the next step for the Tennessee program: going further in March, when it really counts.

3. Tyler Smith

It's going to be a ton of fun watching this guy play basketball this year. He is a special player, and with all due respect to the rest of this group, this team is Tyler's team. The offense is going to center around him, and when it comes down to it, he's going to be the go-to guy. He showed he's capable of coming through in the clutch (Ole Miss and Memphis, anyone?).

SEC Player of the Year? Likely. NBA Lottery Pick next June? If he gets an outside shot, without a doubt yes. To me he's next in line in establishing the Tennessee program as nationally relevant. The one we'll remember 20 years from now in the same line as C.J. Watson (who deserves WAY more appreciation than he gets), Dane Bradshaw, Chris Lofton (who's by himself), and JaJuan Smith.

4. Scotty, Cam, Woolridge, and Negedu...

Oh, the new guys. Talk about length. Talk about athleticism. A 6-6 or 6-8 guy at the two? Having seen Hopson play in the summer league, he just makes it look so easy. Yes, sometimes it looks as if he doesn't care. I'm not worried about him not turning it up when has to. Tatum may be the team's best three--point shooter (more on that later). Woolridge could start tomorrow night and has had quite the buzz around himself since summer. What will Negedu - who to me is essentially replacing Duke Crews - bring to the table?

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="191" caption="B-Maze might be the newcomer that determines the fate for Tennessee"][/caption]

How are all these new pieces going to mesh? Will the chemistry seen from the last two years still be here this year? It may take some time, but if it does, the talent is scary good. Obviously youth and inexperience gets brought up as well. To that I say these names: Carmelo Anthony. Derrick Rose. Kevin Love. Conley. Oden. This ain't football, people. You can win with freshman in hoops. It may get bumpy at first, but if the struggles are there by conference play, only then would I start worrying.

5. Big Money Maze

Now I think Bruce Pearl is an excellent coach. However, yes Rick Pitino did pretty much own him last March in Charlotte. Yes tinkering with Ramar Smith and the PG position for the NCAA Tournament probably wasn't his best moment, and I wouldn't be shocked if Bruce even told you that himself.

But I think Maze may be the missing link. The guy was the most impressive Vol in the summer league, with his ability to do many things at the offensive end and his overall intensity. Obviously with the horribly (and questionably) timed Daniel West eligibility issues, more of a burden falls on Maze's (and J.P. Prince's...and Josh Tabb's) shoulders. Can he handle it? Time will tell, but like with the rest of the new guys, Maze seems talented enough to make it happen.

I mean, he's like a clone of Allen Iverson - corn rows, headband, height - and he puts on for Tennessee...how bad can he be??

6. Big Wayne

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="195" caption="Wayne...you gotta love him..."][/caption]

I love watching Tyler Smith play. I'm probably gonna love some of the new guys' games too. But my favorite current Vol has to be Wayne Chism. For a couple reasons, First, he wears his headband differently from every other player, so he's easily spotted. Second, he and his three-point shots are adventurous. You always are thinking, "Oh s***, not Wayne!"...and he banks it in. Who doesn't love centers who can bomb? And finally, the dude's always smiling. Always. You gotta love him...

7. Who's Bert gonna yell "Money!" for now??

I have three major questions for this team. First, and this was a late-developing concern, is the point guard situation. Maze now has a bigger burden on his shoulders, and behind him it's either J.P. Prince, who most fans are probably very skeptical of after last year's debacle, or Josh Tabb. From seeing Daniel West in the summer league, I thought he was going to be a very solid backup. Prince says he's ready, not only healthy, but ready to play point guard. The Pistons are using Tayshaun as a point forward, so maybe J.P. can get some tips. I'm not saying he's not capable, I'll just believe it when I see it.

Secondly, losing Lofton and JaJuan means you lose almost all of the outside game. Who's gonna hit those dagger threes this year? Who will come up with the key outside shot in a key moment? Will the new three-point line have any effect on Bruce Pearl's three-happy offense? If Tennessee can't hit threes, team are undoubtedly going to pack it in and clog up the lane for Tyler and Chism. Thirdly, how will this team come together? Can the chemistry from the past seasons carry over with all these new faces? The talent's certainly there...

8. Now that's a schedule...

Bruce Pearl loves schedules like this. In addition to the SEC, everyone of course knows about the trip to Kansas, the visits from Memphis State and Gonzaga, and the game in Nashville with Big East foe Marquette.

How about we take a little deeper look? There's the Old Spice Classic in Orlando Thanksgiving weekend. The Vols' opening opponent, the Siena Saints, hammered the crap out of Vandy in the NCAA Tournament last year. Also there: Wichita State (revenge?), Georgetown, Michigan State (who's a top 10 team?), Oklahoma State, and Gonzaga (again possibly).

Even the "cupcake" teams aren't walkovers. Chattanooga hung with Tennessee last year. UT-Martin has Lester Hudson, who nearly went in the NBA Draft last year. MTSU is picked near the top of the Sun Belt (they lost in the conference tourney title game last March). There's a tricky little trip to Temple, an NCAA Tournament team from last year. Finally, there's Belmont. Ask Dook about the Bruins.

9. "The Streak"

Fact: in my two years of college, I have never had to leave TBA with the sick feeling of losing. Yes, I'm undefeated at home over two years. Tennessee's home winning streak is up to 32 games now, and I think it would be cool to keep that going.

Just four years ago, TBA was just a big, empty arena. Now, it's one of the best arenas in college basketball, and one of the toughest places to play in the SEC and the nation. Thank you, Bruce.

10. January 24, 2009

Look, most Tennessee fans don't really care about little ol' Memphis State down in the southwest corner of the state. It's a little different for those of us who either live there and grew up there. Seeing Tennessee win the last two games against Tiger High in person were two of the funnest times of my college life. Watching them choke away a national title was pretty good too...

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="WWWHHHHHHAAAAHHHHHH"][/caption]

The Vols go for three-in-a-row January 24 in Knoxville. Honestly, this is the game I probably want to win the most this year. I could go into my reasons my hating the Tigers basketball program, but I'll save that til this game in January. I'm not one of guaranteeing things, but it's probably going to better than my Alabama hate post from a few weeks ago.

Oh I can't wait to make John Calipari cry his way back home...yet again.

GO VOLS BASKETBALL!!


Images Courtesy of: Mark Humphrey / AP (Daylife)Saul Young / GVX • Joe Murphy / Getty Images (Daylife)Alan Spearman / AP (Daylife)
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