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August 13, 2008

Tennessee has questions at point guard

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll be working all summer to get you ready for the season and answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
Aug. 5: Instant impact
July 29: Too much hype?
July 23: The right move?

Few positions will be dissected more leading up to the 2008-09 season than point guard at Tennessee.

The Volunteers look strong everywhere else. Small forward Tyler Smith is arguably the best player in the SEC. Big man Wayne Chism will be a three-year starter. Versatile J.P. Prince should be ready for a bigger role after winning the league's sixth man of the year award last season. The Vols also have added another stellar recruiting class, led by five-star shooting guard Scotty Hopson - a possible one-and-done type.

But there is a genuine concern that the lack of a point guard could hold the Vols back. Ramar Smith was kicked off the team in May, which left true freshman Daniel West a three-star recruit to take over the reins. Five days after officially losing Smith, the Vols also received a commitment from Bobby Maze, a highly touted junior college point guard.

Those two unproven options generate many questions in Big Orange Country. Is Maze the answer to the Vols' point-guard problems? Is West? Or a combination of the two?

We examine those questions and more in this week's mailbag.

ANDREW'S MAILBAG
Pondering the point

What kind of impact do you think Bobby Maze will have this year? I saw him play in the suburban coalition league in Washington, D.C., with one of his Tennessee teammates. I think Bruce Pearl's system will be a good fit for Bobby's talent, but I never really saw him as much of a point guard.

Anonymous
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I didn't see Maze play in the summer league, but I did see plenty of him at Oklahoma - where he spent his freshman season. He certainly isn't a prototypical point guard, but that shouldn't be an issue. The Vols have reached the Sweet 16 in each of the past two seasons while getting erratic play from their point guards.

Maze doesn't have to be great. Same goes for West, if he works his way into the rotation or becomes the starter. They just have to be adequate. They just have to avoid being a weakness.

Early on, you have to expect some growing pains. But, ultimately I think the Vols will be fine at point. Maze is more of a scorer than a distributor, but more important he is explosive and quick. Those attributes will serve him well in a system where players get extraordinary amounts of freedom and are encouraged to attack the basket on every possession.

Tiger talk

What is the prediction for LSU next season with a new coach? I think that Trent Johnson will bring structure to a program that already has an appeal with high-level recruits. Any thoughts?

Chris from Alabama
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LSU isn't going to get much preseason attention after a 13-18 year, but I would not be surprised to see the Tigers win the SEC West.

The division is wide open. Mississippi State and Arkansas - which finished first and second last season, respectively - have heavy losses. Each will be fortunate to reach the NIT. Nobody else looks like an NCAA Tournament lock in the division.

LSU returns some impressive pieces. Guard Marcus Thornton, one of the nation's most underrated players, was the SEC's second-leading scorer last season at 19.6 points per game. Chris Johnson emerged as one of the league's top big men late in the season, putting up four double-doubles in the Tigers' last six games.

The Tigers did lose their best player to the NBA in first-round pick Anthony Randolph. But they also add a healthy Tasmin Mitchell, a major piece of the 2006 Final Four team, who sat out nearly all of last season with an ankle injury.

After interim coach Butch Pierre (now an assistant at Oklahoma State) took over the team in early February, the Tigers improved dramatically. They went 5-5 and nearly knocked off No. 7 Tennessee. Add a proven coach in Johnson - who has won at Nevada and Stanford - to the mix, and there is plenty of reason to think that momentum will continue in 2008-09.

Early ACC projections

Obviously North Carolina and Duke should be in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season. But what other ACC teams do you see making it, and could any of them make some noise come tourney time?

Ryan from Williamsburg, Va.
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Miami and Wake Forest are good enough to be in the field of 65, and they could challenge Duke for that second spot in the league standings.

The Hurricanes return their top five scorers from a team that reached the second round last season, including guard Jack McClinton - who is one of the best players in the league not named Tyler Hansbrough.

The Deacons will be young but extremely talented. They are adding three five-star recruits, including two 6-11 centers (Ty Walker and Tony Woods), and return two top freshmen from last season guard Jeff Teague and forward James Johnson.

I think you'll probably see at least one more ACC team earn its way into the field of 65. It most likely will be Clemson, which returns some big pieces after a breakthrough season, or Virginia Tech, which nearly got an NCAA invitation with a young team last season. Don't rule out Maryland, either. The Terps have some big questions on the inside, but they're going to be dangerous on the perimeter.

Discussing depth

Who do you think will have the best/deepest bench this season?

Josh from Radcliff, Ky.
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Without scanning through the rosters of each of the 341 Division I teams, I'll go with Tennessee.

Coach Bruce Pearl has a reputation for using deep benches last season, he used 11 players in most games and this could be his deepest yet. Despite losing Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith and booting Duke Crews and Ramar Smith off the team, the Vols could go 12 or even 13 deep. Six players from last season's rotation are back and so is redshirt freshman Cameron Tatum, who was part of the rotation early before suffering a knee injury. The Vols have added six recruits, and each could see playing time. Four are top-100 players in the 2008 class.

The second-deepest team in the nation could be in the same division as Tennessee. Florida returns eight from a nine-man rotation and is adding a highly ranked five-man recruiting class.

Next best thing

After the top six, who do you think will have the biggest impact and be the most productive on the Tar Heel juggernaut?

Jerod from Erwin, N.C.
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Nobody coming back really stands out, so I'll go with one of the freshmen, either power forward Ed Davis or guard Larry Drew.

Davis, a five-star recruit, was ranked much higher and has NBA potential. But it's tough to envision him playing more than 10-15 minutes a game this season. He's starting out behind Hansbrough and Deon Thompson, who is coming off a solid sophomore season.

Drew, the No. 71 overall prospect in the 2008 class, has a chance to win the backup point guard job - depending on where the coaches decide to play junior guard Bobby Frasor.

With so many established starters coming back, don't expect either newcomer to make a big impact.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.



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