In November, which Tennessee candidate would you have projected on the All-SEC basketball team?
First choice: Jeronne Maymon.
Second choice: Jarnell Stokes.
Third choice: Trae Golden, maybe.
Who is actually playing at an All-SEC level?
None of the above. Try Jordan McRae.
I doubt McRae got any write-in votes on the preseason All-SEC ballot. That's understandable.
As a freshman, he saw the floor for all of 53 minutes, scattered over 10 games.
As a sophomore, potential began to emerge. He averaged 8.6 points, started 15 games and had several highlights, namely scoring 25 in back-to-back early-season games.
McRae, the junior, has come a long way from the high-strung freshman who was once disciplined for inappropriate behavior on a team bus with boosters present.
McRae, the junior, is doing his best to carry the Vols through a difficult period.
And McRae, the junior, is being asked to do a bit too much.
The Vols are back in Thompson-Boling Arena today against Alabama for another January must-win game. McRae can't afford to call in sick.
On the season, McRae is averaging 14.5 points. His original role as a spark off the bench was eliminated as an unaffordable luxury. Too many balky starts were putting the Vols in early holes. UT needed McRae at the opening tip.
In five SEC games — the Vols are 1-4 — McRae is averaging 21.6 points and 36.2 minutes. He's the No. 2 scorer in conference play behind Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson. Only Auburn's Frankie Sullivan gets less rest.
He's scored 21 or more in five of the past six games. Being UT's leading scorer is a role McRae no doubt relished. Who wouldn't?
But I doubt he envisioned himself taking on the responsibility of being the lead point guard. Let's just say it's not a natural fit.
Coach Cuonzo Martin downplays the significance of having a dominant point guard in his motion offense. But I bet he'd love to have one.
McRae is essentially a 6-5 wing playing the point because no one else has met Martin's standard of efficiency. Golden, the erstwhile starter, still plays significant minutes. Virtually every other perimeter player has taken a turn.
Not coincidentally, a trend in the Vols' inability to close out games has been the perils of shoddy ball-handling.
In the latest chapter, a commendable effort Thursday night at Ole Miss was sabotaged by 21 turnovers.
UT's media notes don't list the last time a player had nine turnovers in a game — as McRae did in the 62-56 loss to the Rebels — but I can't remember one.
Some (not all) arose from a 6-5 wing being thrust into the role of primary ball-handler. Maybe another couple could be charged to fatigue from playing 39 minutes in a contest that at times resembled rugby.
That also might explain his two free-throw misses at the 2:32 mark with Ole Miss up 58-56. He'd made 11 of 12 to that point.
Bottom line, until someone else steps up to share the load, much will be asked of McRae.
So when you arrive at the arena today, if McRae takes your ticket at the front door, smile and pat him on the back.
If he sings the national anthem, applaud warmly.
He'll give his all for Tennessee today. There just might not be enough of him to go around.