Mike Strange: This isn't the first time Vols haven't gotten the point

Mike Strange
Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin (5) tries to get around Tennessee guard Antonio Barton (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 in Gainesville, Fla. Florida took the win from Tennessee 67-41. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Photo by Phil Sandlin

Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin (5) tries to get around Tennessee guard Antonio Barton (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 in Gainesville, Fla. Florida took the win from Tennessee 67-41. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Cuonzo Martin discusses the Vols' 64-60 loss to Vanderbilt

During a previous Tennessee basketball coaching regime, I once called a coach whose former player had just signed with the Vols.

The player, who needn’t be named here, was being advertised as Tennessee’s new point guard.

“They’re gonna play him at point guard?” the coach replied with surprise in his voice.

This anecdote is illustrative of Tennessee’s historical struggle to identify, develop and enjoy the fruits of a good point guard.

Want a more recent illustration?

How about Wednesday night, when Vanderbilt’s Kyle Fuller dominated the Vols in a 64-60 win by the Commodores in Nashville.

Fuller isn’t considered the top-tier point guard in the SEC by any means. But he basically beat Tennessee by repeatedly getting into the paint for his own shots and dishes to set up teammates.

It was surprising the box score credited him with only 10 assists. It seemed like 20.

And it made you wonder how different the game would have been if the Vols had Fuller on their side Wednesday night.

If not Fuller, how about Alabama’s Trevor Releford? Or Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin?

UT is getting inconsistent play at the point, which frequently results in a stagnant offense.

Antonio Barton hasn’t been the plug-in replacement for Trae Golden that most thought he would be. To be fair to Barton, he’s more of a shooting guard miscast as a playmaker.

In freshman Darius Thompson, it appears Tennessee has its point guard of the future. He’s a natural, with terrific court vision and deft passing skills.

But for now, he’s a freshman. He has to get stronger, improve as a defender and show some semblance of a scoring threat so the Vols aren’t playing four-on-five.

Point-guard issues are a familiar theme at Tennessee, even in the good times.

The 2007-08 team that got to No. 1 in the polls and won an outright SEC title had its quirks. Going into the NCAA tournament, Bruce Pearl felt compelled to bench Ramar Smith and move wing J.P. Prince to the point.

Not a normal ploy for March Madness.

Oh, where have you gone Johnny Darden and Rodney Woods and Tyrone Beaman? Why can’t the Vols find great playmakers any more?

Tennessee’s premier point guard of the 21st Century is C.J. Watson, who started 118 of the 119 games he played from 2003-06.

Watson, currently employed by the Indiana Pacers, averaged 12.0 points over his UT career, but also ranks 11th on the SEC’s all-time assist chart.

The Vols stumbled onto Watson. UT coach Buzz Peterson was at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas, when a local dad, Charles Watson, approached him and pitched his son.

The Watson family had Tennessee roots and the Vols hit a Las Vegas jackpot that would pay off for the next four years.

It’s generally not that easy finding and signing a good point guard. Cuonzo Martin’s first recruit at UT was a point guard, Wes Washpun. He came and went, barely a blip on the radar.

Martin should have better luck with Thompson, the one-time Vandy commitment from Murfreesboro.

Wednesday night was his third consecutive start. Fuller, a senior, was more than he could handle, thus Thompson played only 18 minutes.

Presumably, Thompson’s time will come if he puts in the work. He could be the starter through 2017.

That’s not much comfort at the moment, though. Time is running out on a season that isn’t exactly on point.

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Comments » 8

Volborn writes:

Uh…no comment.

halhhaynes#364264 writes:

BBB

wigmeister writes:

This team is doomed. No passion or heart. They mail it in, in too many games. I really don't think the players care.

oldster writes:

The reason that UT has had trouble finding a point guard is that our coaches are looking for long, athletic players and point guards are not typically long or even particularly athletic (relative to big time bb players, of course). They tend to be more cerebral with good grasps of the game rather than just raw physical talent. These talents are much harder to measure. I might suggest having an ex-point guard on staff.

Thompson shows a lot of promise, though. He is already pretty darn good on the offensive end. His quickness will improve, but being long himself compared to those who he is expected to guard, he will almost always be overmatched in this area. That being said, all is not necessarily lost because length can make up for quickness if used properly and Thompson seems to have the basketball IQ necessary to learn that. I.e. he will make UT better.

johndavid writes:

Play the zone to minimize the point guards defensive weakness or play McRae at the point and make the most of a physical lineup. What about Lopez? Thompson sure looked good at the top of 13 at Bama. Not all teams will attack it as quite as good as Vandy.

WaitUntilNextYear writes:

Thompson was a joke Wednesday night. He looked like a high school B team guard.
He was lazy on D, walked the ball up the court when time was wasting, never went for a loose ball and didn't score.
He hurt us more then if he signed with Vandy.
Barton shouldn't even travel, he can't do anything well.
Move McRae to point like last year.
The Vols are probably doomed due to their lazy effort so don't worry about the pathetic point guards.

oldster writes:

in response to WaitUntilNextYear:

Thompson was a joke Wednesday night. He looked like a high school B team guard.
He was lazy on D, walked the ball up the court when time was wasting, never went for a loose ball and didn't score.
He hurt us more then if he signed with Vandy.
Barton shouldn't even travel, he can't do anything well.
Move McRae to point like last year.
The Vols are probably doomed due to their lazy effort so don't worry about the pathetic point guards.

Look at Thompson's turnover to assist ratio for this game as well as over all. He shot the ball well. Evidently, walking the ball up the court was at the direction of the coaching staff, as Barton did the same thing.

I am not concerned about a point guard not scoring many points any more than I am a qb scoring running tds. Their biggest jobs are to get the ball to people who do score and otherwise run the team. That a freshman needs work at this, is hardly surprising, but he is very good for someone with so little experience - on offense. His D is a problem. Much of that is lack of experience, too, as that will help his anticipation. Further, remember how young he is compared to those he is guarding and how much even one year's maturity and time in the weight program can affect a person's physical attributes.

No, Thompson is the best looking point prospect UT has had since Watson.

Oh, yeah, McRae at point would finish UT off as the ball would never get to Stokes or Maymon except on rebounds.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to oldster:

Look at Thompson's turnover to assist ratio for this game as well as over all. He shot the ball well. Evidently, walking the ball up the court was at the direction of the coaching staff, as Barton did the same thing.

I am not concerned about a point guard not scoring many points any more than I am a qb scoring running tds. Their biggest jobs are to get the ball to people who do score and otherwise run the team. That a freshman needs work at this, is hardly surprising, but he is very good for someone with so little experience - on offense. His D is a problem. Much of that is lack of experience, too, as that will help his anticipation. Further, remember how young he is compared to those he is guarding and how much even one year's maturity and time in the weight program can affect a person's physical attributes.

No, Thompson is the best looking point prospect UT has had since Watson.

Oh, yeah, McRae at point would finish UT off as the ball would never get to Stokes or Maymon except on rebounds.

Strongly agree about Thompson's potential. With a little luck and continued maturation and experience, he could be a key player going forward.

Not sure McRae at PG, certainly in spots, would be such a disaster. McRae is willing to pass the ball, though admittedly it is probably not his natural first option. I do get your point that a "hoggish" McRae would be a problem for the team; as long as he doesn't play as if he has to do everything himself, he should be fine.

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