Need a break from the insanity of the last 24 hours in Big Orange Country? Fear not, BruceBall is back to save the day.
The Vols open the 2009-10 season tonight against in-state foe Austin Peay, who will make the trip from Clarksville to Knoxville for tonight's 9:00 PM tipoff. Bruce Pearl, who begins his fifth season for the Vols, has made a habit of scheduling the smaller in-state schools for the November/December portion of the schedule: after tonight, the Vols will have played every Division 1 basketball school in the Volunteer State except Tennessee State University.
Austin Peay made the NCAA Tournament in 2008 and lost at the buzzer in double overtime last season in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Finals, denying them a return trip to the big dance. The Governors still went 19-14 overall last season, but lost two of their best players in seniors Drake Reed (forward who avearged 22 points and 8 boards) and Kyle Duncan (guard who averaged 9 points and was the team's defensive specialist, according to Athlon). The team that returns is young: 9 of the 12 players on the depth chart are freshmen or sophomores, and senior Ernest Fields is out with a knee injury until December.
The player to watch is Wes Channels, 6'3" senior guard from Memphis. Channels averaged 16.5 points per game last season and is the only Governor returning who averaged over 10 per contest. Channels is a preseason first team All-OVC selection. This team was picked third in the OVC preseason poll by league coaches. Head coach David Loos is in his 20th season at Austin Peay, and will become the OVC's all-time winningest coach with six more victories.
What to watch for: As long as the Vols contain Channels and don't allow him to have a career night the way they allowed multiple opposing guards to do last season, Tennessee should be able to exploit Austin Peay in terms of both talent and experience. It'll be the first real glimpse of this Tennessee team, and we'll be eager to see Melvin Goins, Skylar McBee, and Kenny Hall. It would also be great if Scotty Hopson got off to a good start. And it'll be great to see the rest of the guys in action again.
The Vols get only this game and UNC-Asheville on Tuesday to prepare for the Paradise Jam Tournament next weekend, where if they get past East Carolina in the opener, they'll probably face a very dangerous mid-major in Northern Iowa in the semis, and could see #7 Purdue in the finals. Though they're sure to have some growing pains, this team needs to start well, and this looks like the right opponent to do that against.
The game starts at 9:00 PM and will be televised by SportSouth. We'll have the live game thread here as always - if you've joined us for the first time this season in the football game threads, we invite you to come join us for the basketball threads as well. See you then.