Tennessee’s basketball team wanted to test its guards in its first exhibition game against Florida Southern last Saturday. In the Vols’ second and final exhibition on Thursday night, their big men will have their turn to be tested.
“Southern Indiana has traditional big guys, guys who are big and physical around the rim,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “(The game) will help our big guys, because they’ll have to be physical and have to defend.”
Southern Indiana will start four players 6-foot-7 or taller, including 6-8, 249-pound Aaron Nelson and 6-8, 225-pound Taylor Wischmeier at the four and five spots. Both are seniors and both were double-figure scorers a year ago for the Division II power that finished 23-8 and advanced to the D-II Midwest Regional semifinals.
Clearly the Screaming Eagles’ bigs aren’t afraid. In an 83-68 exhibition loss at Indiana last week, Nelson scored 14 points, and Wischmeier contributed a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double.
That duo will definitely represent a challenge for the Vols’ Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes. Stokes performed as expected against Florida Southern, with 27 points and 10 boards. Maymon, who missed all of last season, is easing his way back into the lineup. He played 17 minutes, contributing eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“Rusty,” Maymon said when asked to assess his play so far. “Placement. Doing things that come natural like sealing your man, running the floor, being at the right place at the right time. All that stuff. Still trying to shake the rust off of that.”
Barton still out: Memphis transfer Antonio Barton, the senior who was supposed to take over for the departed Trae Golden at the point, missed the Florida Southern game and isn’t likely to play against Southern Indiana after suffering a leg injury last week. Martin is being cautious because the Vols will need him in their season opener at Xavier.
That means freshman Darius Thompson who was solid against Florida Southern with nine points, four assists and no turnovers, will get the start. Thompson hasn’t slowed the Vols’ transition game, a priority this season, though he’s not as fast as Barton.
“Darius doesn’t push it up as fast off the dribble, but he can pass it up and get it to the spots he needs to get to,” Martin said.
Thompson’s elevation into the starting lineup means that All-SEC shooting guard Jordan McRae will have to back up the point.
“I need to be more point-guard-minded, try to get everybody else involved a little bit more,” McRae said. “It’s easier to turn the ball over playing the point.”
Barton’s inability to play has been critical, given that he didn’t arrive on campus until school began in August and missed important bonding time with his new teammates in June and July. But he fit in quickly and from all accounts will be an upgrade at the point-once he’s healthy.
“Antonio brings a lot of different things to the table-experience is probably the most important part,” Maymon said. “We need that out there, at the head of our offense and our defense.”
Vols have unusual start to regular season: While hundreds of Division I schools are starting their seasons either Friday or Saturday, the Vols will have to wait until Nov. 12. And instead of playing an overmatched mid-major team at home, they will head to Cincinnati to play Xavier, a member of the newly revamped Big East.
The Musketeers are coming off a sub-par 17-14 season and are picked to finish in the middle of the Big East, but they’re still a program to be reckoned with and should be improved.
“I like to think that we will have a lot more depth this year,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “We played walk-ons last year a lot of minutes. When you replace all five starters from a Sweet 16 team [in 2012], it can be tough.”
Martin is glad to be getting this game out of the way early. It’s a payback game; the Musketeers played in Knoxville last season and lost, 51-47.
“I feel like it’s the best time to play those guys,” Martin said. “I felt like our team was mature enough to go on the road early and play. At some point we had to play them. I didn’t want to get bogged down in the latter part of the schedule with some of the other teams we have to play.”