X marks spot with Xavier playing at Tennessee

An ESPNU satellite truck will pull into a Thompson-Boling Arena driveway early today and open its doors to the second half of the Tennessee men's basketball season.

There are no more gimmies.

Games against Xavier and Memphis — a pair of perennial tournament teams — preface the Vols' SEC opener against Ole Miss in 12 days.

"The lights are coming on," UT coach Cuonzo Martin said Friday. "Time to be ready."

Starting with Xavier today (TV: ESPNU, 6:05 p.m.) and next Friday's showdown with rival Memphis will bring national television audiences to Thompson-Boling.

They'll also bring the season's final two opportunities for solid non-conference wins on UT's NCAA tournament resume.

That said, the Vols will face a weaker-than-normal Xavier team. The Musketeers (7-4) have dropped three of their last four games. Losses piled up against rival Cincinnati, lowly Vanderbilt and head-scratching Wofford. Each loss came inside the Cincinnati city limits, usually a friendly fortress for Xavier.

Any UT fan still lamenting the absence of star forward Jeronne Maymon (knee) can look to the Muskies for solace.

Coach Chris Mack lost 2011-12 leading scorer Tu Holloway and leading rebounder Kenny Frease to graduation, parted ways with second-leading scorer Mark Lyons (transfer to Arizona) and then unexpectedly lost fourth-leading scorer Dezmine Wells (transfer to Maryland) after he was expelled by the school for a sexual assault charge that was later dismissed.

As if that wasn't enough, Xavier lost incoming freshmen Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis, half of Mack's 14th-ranked recruiting class, to academic eligibility issues. Then, for good measure, assistant coaches Rasheen Davis (to Manhattan) and Kareem Richardson (to Louisville), jumped ship.

Even with Maymon's absence, the Vols are a picture of stability compared to the Musketeers.

"They're looking to find themselves," Martin said. "With the talent they have, there's no telling where they'd be if those other guys were playing."

Xavier can be dangerous, though. Early season wins over Butler and Drexel stand as proof. The team is led by freshman Samaj Christon (pronounced Sem-ah-jeh Kristen), who

leads four double-digit scorers with 14.2 points per game.

At 6-foot-3, Criston is one of a crew of guards who Martin called, "Big, talented and extremely versatile."

Tennessee is riding a three-game winning streak since back-to-back losses to Georgetown and Virginia.

UT returned to practice on Wednesday after a holiday break following a 66-52 victory against Western Carolina on Dec. 21. Of the practices since returning, Martin said, "When you have that amount of time off you go back to basics — back to the first two or three weeks of practice.

The practices also have allowed freshman Derek Reese to take the next step toward appearing in his first game. The 6-8 guard from Orlando, Fla., who underwent shoulder surgery Aug. 21 to repair a labral tear, was cleared for full participation in practice this week.

According to Martin, Reese looked "very strong" in all contact drills. Asked about the potential of him making a debut appearance tonight, Martin said, "He could be out there, I wouldn't necessarily rule it out. It will depend on what the doctors say."

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn

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Comments » 12

wigmeister writes:

Have to protect our house! The preseason is over. Let the real games begin!

manning_berry_special_player1614 writes:

GO VOLS give us two halves of Tennessee basket ball and we will win this game.....Reese getting healthy is a big plus

born2ride writes:

Xavier lost to Wofford. Memphis isn't ranked nor projected in the tourney. Ole Miss is an NIT team. Even Martin should be able to out score these teams.

tnvol4ever writes:

Hard to imagine this team being anything more than a bad NCAA tourney team or a good NIT tourney team without Maymon. Only time will tell...GO VOLS

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to tnvol4ever:

Hard to imagine this team being anything more than a bad NCAA tourney team or a good NIT tourney team without Maymon. Only time will tell...GO VOLS

Will have to see if we can find a way to adjust without Maymon..I just don't see Hall or Yemi all of sudden being more than what they are..Stokes will get nullified by bigger athletic teams which will put the burden on McRae and Golden..I know I've said it 100 times but McRae has the chance to carry this team much like Prince did..He has shown flashes of being a very verstile scorer but just can't do it every night!

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to born2ride:

Xavier lost to Wofford. Memphis isn't ranked nor projected in the tourney. Ole Miss is an NIT team. Even Martin should be able to out score these teams.

As usual Memphis has tons of talent but find ways to lose..50/50 we beat them..Xavier lost at home to Wofford because they missed 5 straight FT's late..Xavier can definitely play defense but have no depth..We should win by 7 but not if we come out shooting 20%

Sir_Spanky writes:

Reading this article reminds me of a cute little black jack dealer I saw at The Mirage one night telling a player after taking all his money to cry her a river, and then buy her a boat. Pretty little thing, she was.

volfan2002 writes:

Reese is a decent three point shooter and since were shooting .296 as a team would love to see him out there.

VolGrad writes:

Why do I get the distinct impression from a few of these comments that someone is merely talking to himself?

Go Vols! Beat the Musketeers!!!

volthrunthru#658770 writes:

Gonzo Quonzo is not SEC level as a HC.

Maybe some day. Not today.

And beating Xavier can be more daunting than being an SEC level HC's best effort.

So...thanks Hamilton, for yet another screwed up hire.

tan007 writes:

Let's give this team & their Coach a chance to prove themselves. All these negative comments don't do anybody any good. I see a very good defensive team with plenty of hustle. Sure, they need to score more points but that is on the way. I am looking forward to the rest of the season because I believe they will pull out some big wins. Have complete faith in them. I don't think Maymon will be there to help play but he sure is good encouragement on the bench.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

hehe I can't wait to see this "dream team" many on here expect. It's one thing to expect more from our team and it's another to constantly "rag" our team and coaches.

Why not just enjoy. It's your choice. Enjoy or be miserable all the time.

Go Vols. You're already a great team to watch. (If they'd quit the ESPdarNU blackouts I'd love to watch them)

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