Vols kick off campaign against Blue Raiders
Knoxville, TN (Sports Network) – The Tennessee Volunteers begin their 98th
season of varsity basketball when they host the Middle Tennessee Blue
Raiders tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena. In his first season as head
coach, Bruce Pearl led the Vols to a solid 22-8 ledger in 2005-06, but an
early exit from the NCAA Tournament left the coach with a sour taste in
its mouth. Pearl will look to lead his team back to the NCAA Tourney, and with
his top scorer from a year ago back in the fold, that could become a
As for the Blue Raiders, they open the season trying to forget the heart-
breaking finish they endured last year. Middle Tennessee suffered a tough,
last-second setback to Denver in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Conference
Tournament. Despite the loss, the Blue Raiders finished the year with a
16-12 mark, and coach Kermit Davis is hoping his team will be ready to take
the next step in 2006-07.
With respect to the all-time series between these two schools, the Vols hold
a 4-1 advantage over Middle Tennessee, and that includes a 74-56 victory over
the Blue Raiders back in 2002.
Coach Davis does not have the most talent on his roster entering this season,
but he does return three quality starters, including Adam Vogelsberg who posted
12.4 ppg last year. Vogelsberg should be the leader of the Blue Raiders this
season, but the 6-4 guard does not have the capability to take over a contest,
meaning Middle Tennessee will need offensive help from surrounding players.
Hopefully one of those players will be forward Kyle Young. At 6-10, Young
should be a dominant force at both ends of the floor, but last season he
struggled with the physical aspect of the game. Hopefully an off-season of
training will have Young ready and willing to be more assertive. Assisting
Young down low will be freshman Desmond Yates. Yates is a gritty player who
likes to attack the boards and play tenacious defense, however, his only
downfall is his inconsistent offensive play.
With three starters from a year ago gone, coach Pearl does not have the same
talent level entering this season, but that said, he does return the team’s
leading scorer in Chris Lofton. Lofton netted 17.2 ppg a year ago, proving to
be one of the nation’s premier three-point shooters. JaJuan Smith is a nice
complement to Lofton in the backcourt and should fine a lot of open looks
throughout the season as opponents try to contain Lofton. If Smith can make his
shots, then the Vols could have one of the best backcourts in the SEC. The
frontcourt is not as steady as the team enters tonight’s game with Dane
Bradshaw and Wayne Chism in the starting lineup. Bradshaw is just 6-4 and is
recovering from off-season wrist surgery, so obviously it will take time for
him to shake off the rust. As for Chism, he is a 6-9 freshman with loads of
talent, but he will likely endure some growing pains early.
If Pearl is going to get this Vols team back to the Big Dance then it has to
start tonight. Look for Tennessee to record a solid victory over the Blue
Raiders and get the ball rolling.