KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee men's basketball team opened the New Year with half of the top eight players in its rotation in hot water.
Senior captain Tyler Smith, junior backup post Brian Williams, redshirt sophomore wing Cameron Tatum and junior backup point guard Melvin Goins were arrested Friday on a series of misdemeanor drug and weapons charges after a routine traffic stop late Friday morning.
UT coach Bruce Pearl told the News Sentinel on Friday night that all four players have been suspended and likely will not practice with the team today. It's possible all four will be suspended for at least one game, too.
"I'm deeply saddened and troubled by today's news,'' Pearl said. "Accordingly, I'm suspending Melvin, Cameron, Tyler and Brian pending further information.
"I apologize for the embarrassment this has brought to the university."
Pearl hopes to minimize the net effect of the suspensions on the court as the No. 14 Vols (10-2) prepare for Wednesday's 7 p.m. home game against Charlotte (10-2).
The 49ers handed Louisville coach Rick Pitino his worst home loss with the Cardinals earlier this season, 87-65.
The four suspended players account for 46 percent of the Vols' assists, 42 percent of the team's scoring and 38 percent of UT's rebounding.
Smith, an All-SEC forward, is the most irreplaceable in the group, leading the Vols in minutes played and assists, and ranking second with 11.7 points per game.
Tatum, Williams and Goins each have had key performances and contributions at different times. A slashing wing and streaky 3-point shooter, Tatum had started six games before senior J.P. Prince reclaimed the starting job for the Vols' 66-59 win over Memphis on Thursday.
The 6-foot-10, 278-pound Williams is the biggest player on the team, and he has been a rebounding force playing nearly 17 minutes per game off the bench.
Goins, who transferred from Mt. San Jacinto (Calif.) Junior College last summer, has provided a physical defensive presence at point guard and came up with clutch points in the win over Memphis.
If the players are suspended for the game against Charlotte, Pearl would obviously have to shake up his rotation.
Sophomore Renaldo Woolridge likely would get his first start of the season in place of Smith. Woolridge ranks 10th on the team in minutes played, but his time has increased over the past five games. Pearl likes the athleticism and energy the 6-8 Woolridge plays with, and he has displayed 3-point shooting range.
True freshman Kenny Hall also would likely see a significant increase in minutes played, assuming Williams' role as the backup post. Hall, 6-8, 220, played double-digit minutes the first three games of the season, but an illness limited his playing time into mid-December. Hall is particularly effective on the offensive boards.
Josh Bone, who has sat out a year after transferring from Southern Illinois, could see his first significant minutes backing up starter Bobby Maze at point guard. Bone, 6-3, has played in two games for a total of seven minutes after completing the fall semester and being declared eligible.
Steven Pearl, a 6-5 junior forward, also would see a bigger role in support at the power forward position.
Prince likely will also see minutes at point guard in addition to his time at small forward in the event the four players are suspended for the Charlotte game.
Senior post Wayne Chism, averaging 22 1/2 minutes per game, also would see his minutes increase, spending more time at power forward than he already does.
Both Prince and Chism have proved capable of shouldering the load in the past, and both are coming off one of the finer performances in their careers at Memphis.
The Vols need to regain the momentum they lost with Friday's arrests quickly: No. 1-ranked Kansas (12-0) comes to Thompson-Boling Arena for a Jan. 10 showdown and UT opens the SEC season with a home game against Auburn on Jan. 14.