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2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Volunteers - like Gators - unselfish



John Bazemore/AP Photo

Tennessee's Chris Lofton (5) and Tyler Smith celebrate a goal in their SEC tournament victory over South Carolina.

Tennessee Volunteers

Stat Stuffer: National pundits would say senior Chris Lofton, who averages 15.6 ppg, but in reality the squad has incredible balance. Tyler Smith and JaJuan Smith are right behind Lofton in scoring.

Why they could win it: No stars equal great team chemistry. The Vols have had four players reach double-digit scoring 16 times this season. Four players earned SEC player of the week honors for the first time in school history.

What could cost them: The Vols have trouble scoring in the paint.

Most impressive six-game roll: @Xavier, 82-75; @Gonzaga, 82-72; Mississippi, 85-83; @South Carolina, 80-56; Vanderbilt, 80-60; Ohio State, 74-69.

University of Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl figured the best way to win a national championship this season was to follow the example of a fellow Southeastern Conference team: two-time defending NCAA titlist Florida.

Pearl told the Knoxvillle News-Sentinel he felt the Gators' "balance, unselfish play, execution and chemistry," were integral factors in Joaquim Noah and Company cutting down the nets on the final day of the postseason.

Florida coach Billy Donovan, who should know, says the rival Volunteers have what it takes to roll through the field of 65 this postseason, bringing yet another crown to the SEC.

"Any really good team has answers at different positions. Tennessee has those kind of answers," Donovan told the News-Sentinel.

"The way Tennessee plays, they have a lot of guys who don't necessarily shoot the three at all, but Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith make as tough of threes as anyone. Then they have Tyler (Smith) as the go-to guy, and I think Wayne Chism has really improved and gotten better," Donovan added.

Lofton and JaJuan Smith, a pair of 6-foot-2 senior guards, average 15.6 and 14.1 points a game respectively. Tyler Smith, a 6-7 sophomore forward, averages 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds, while Chism, a 6-9 sophomore forward, contributes 9.2 points and 5.9 boards.

Various players helped the Vols become the top scoring team in the SEC (82.3 points a game at time of publication).

UT did not have a single player on the league's Top Ten scoring chart. Lofton checked in at No. 13.

The unselfish Vols have had four or more players reach double figure scoring in a game 16 times this season. Six different players have led the team in scoring, while five players scored at least 10 points four times.

What's more, Tennessee is the only team in SEC history to have four different players earn SEC player-of-the-week honors in the same season.

It has all added up to a 28-3 record, a school record number of wins entering the postseason tournament.

UT went 14-2 in the regular season, securing the school's first conference crown since 1999-2000 and the first outright (no ties) title since 1966-67.

Ballhawks on defense, the Vols have forced 18.8 turnovers a game and scored 22.2 points per game off turnovers.

"This is what we set out to do. This team did what it was supposed to do," Pearl said.


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