Friday, January 8, 2010
What's Tennessee's ceiling now?
According to a release from the Tennessee athletic department earlier Friday, senior forward Tyler Smith has been dismissed from the team.
The decision was made about a week and a half after Smith and three other teammates -- Melvin Goins, Brian Williams and Cameron Tatum -- were arrested on drugs and weapons charges. Goins, Williams and Tatum are still suspended indefinitely, meaning they will miss the Volunteers' game against No. 1 Kansas this weekend.
Without Smith, an all-SEC forward who received preseason All-American recognition, the Volunteers go from a team that could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament to a squad that could struggle to get out of the first weekend. Smith was averaging 11.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and also led the team in assists and minutes played. He is the Volunteers' most versatile player and was their leader.
Tennessee will still likely make the NCAA Tournament. There is plenty of talent on the roster even without Smith and the other players on suspension. Scotty Hopson and J.P. Prince are very solid on the wings, and Bobby Maze is a serviceable point guard. Up front, Wayne Chism is one of the better big men in the SEC. Renaldo Woolridge and former Southern Illinois transfer Josh Bone are a couple more wings that can score, while Kenny Hall had 12 points and five rebounds in his only start of the season. With those seven (and shooter Skylar McBee), the Volunteers will still compete in the East Division and will likely do enough to garner an invitation to the Big Dance. Furthermore, if any of the trio of Goins, Williams or Tatum returns, it will obviously help the Vols.
However, this isn't the same team without Smith. Despite playing forward, he was a facilitator for Tennessee. He was the team's best passer and he could make plays in a variety of ways. Maze -- and Goins for that matter -- is not a consistent point guard and can struggle to get the offense going. Smith was an impact player on the boards; now the Vols are thin down low with just Chism and Hall holding down the fort. Smith was also the team's most effective scorer from inside the arc. Tennessee will be much more perimeter-oriented now.
Sure, Tennessee still has the talent and pieces to get to the NCAA Tournament, but without Smith, the Volunteers might not last very long.