While waiting for Tennessee to get to the big games in this new basketball season, there's a time-filling activity growing in popularity:
Wondering when Chris Lofton is going to engage his shooting touch and posing theories as to why the All-American is struggling.
Easily the loudest cheer Wednesday night in a 101-44 romp past Arkansas-Monticello at Thompson-Boling Arena came with 7:46 to play when Lofton drilled a 3-point basket.
In two exhibitions and two regular-season games, Lofton is 2-of-18 from 3-point range.
"People try not to talk to him about it,'' said teammate and pal Jordan Howell.
"I joked about it when we went out and ate together Monday night. We know he's struggling but I keep telling him he's the best shooter in the country.''
That's the consensus approach among his teammates: speak softly and wait until Lofton rediscovers his big stick.
"Whenever we need him, he'll be there,'' said UT coach Bruce Pearl.
Lofton scored the first points of the game Wednesday - on a layup - and then let his teammates take care of the next 77.
At one point, Pearl yelled to Lofton on the court and used sign language to encourage him to quit passing up shots.
After his trey, Lofton missed two more attempts and finished 2-of-7 from the field, 1-of-5 behind the arc.
"We've talked about it,'' said Pearl, "about working hard to get open.
"We're not running many set plays out there. When we run a lot of set plays, a lot of them are for him. But there hasn't been the need to do that.''
Other theories include the new black seats, using a different ball Wednesday for the Legends Classic. One Pearl buys into is missing Dane Bradshaw, who had a knack for dishing the ball to Lofton the past three years.
"No question, he probably misses Dane,'' said Pearl.
"It was (Steven) Pearl (the coach's son) who actually got him a look tonight (the assist for his 3-pointer). I told Chris it took Bradshaw-reincarnated to get him a good look.''
Noting that walk-ons Tanner Wild and Quinn Cannington came off the bench in the final minutes and each sank a 3-pointer, Pearl said, tongue in cheek, "When Quinn and Tanner shoot a better percentage than Chris, that might put his job in jeopardy.''
"We've got to believe in him and still get him the ball and keep his confidence up,'' said senior JaJuan Smith.
"We've got his back, no matter what. And he's not discouraged. He's happy we're winning so that's a sign of a good teammate.''
Cover Boy: Lofton is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated's college basketball preview issue. He and Chris Douglas-Roberts of Memphis share one of five regional covers.
It's the first time UT men's basketball has graced the cover since Feb. 9, 1976, when Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King posed (although Lofton was one of many players pictured in a montage on the cover of last year's NCAA tournament preview issue).
Crews Is Back: Wayne Chism was glad to see Duke Crews back in action. After returning from a 30-day suspension, Crews suffered an ankle injury. He made his belated debut with 8:44 to play and had five points and four rebounds in nine minutes.
"He probably wouldn't say it to nobody, but me knowing Duke and how close I am to him, I can see it in his face that he missed being out there,'' Chism said.
"He was sitting down for a while. When he gets back I know he's going to be a lot of trouble for some other teams.''