I'm not sure if Chattanooga is better than Indianapolis, but the Vols were definitely better tonight than they were on Monday. The season opener went Tennessee's way thanks to 17-0 run late in the first half, as the Vols built a 40-18 lead and cruised to an 82-62 victory.
Who contributed? Well, as we expected, almost everybody: six different players scored at least 8 points, and the team worked to force 19 turnovers and hold UTC to 32.7% from the field on the other end. Melvin Goins scored 13 points and did a lot of it by getting to the free throw line, where he went 6 of 7. Scotty Hopson struggled with his shot after knocking down the game's first three, but still finished with 13 points as well. And John Fields? How about 8 points and 10 rebounds in 13 minutes? Coach Pearl made the point in the postgame that Fields is the most excited player on the team - he's been at UNC-Wilmington for the last three years, this whole experience is brand new to him, and he certainly played with enthusiasm tonight.
Having now seen him in person, allow me to echo what many have already said about Tobias Harris. The word that comes to mind with this kid is "smooth" - nothing he does looks difficult for him, and nothing about him looks like a freshman. If you brought someone to a game who didn't know Tennessee's roster, there's a zero percent chance they'd identify Tobias as a true freshman. Tonight he went 7 for 11 from the field, with 18 points and 5 rebounds. It may have only been UTC, but he got past or between defenders with incredible ease, got into the lane, and had plenty of control at his disposal to pull up and hit shots from five feet without drawing contact or charges. Very smooth, can't wait to see him try it against better competition.
Things to improve on? Brian Williams had 8 rebounds, but no points. I'll be interested to see how much of the offense goes through him as the season goes on. And like we thought, the Vols have a proven three point threat in Cameron Tatum (2 of 4 tonight), and a lot of questions everywhere else (rest of the team tonight: 3 of 16).
Tennessee goes to Preseason NIT play next, hosting Belmont on Tuesday night and then either Arkansas State (who pushed Ole Miss to the wire tonight, led by our old friend John Brady) or Missouri State on Wednesday. The competition will get better next week, and then it'll really get better if the Vols make it to New York. The competition within the team will also continue to make this group better; Pearl also mentioned in the postgame that he's only going to play two of Brian Williams, John Fields, and Kenny Hall, and that while tonight Hall sat out until garbage time, there's no guarantee on Williams' playing time either. The rotation and the schedule should have this team ready to roll by the time conference play rolls around...and until then, we'll continue to see them grow, for the most part, in small steps along the way...but man, if you just look at tonight and you think about which player is the most complete right now? You can already make an argument for our favorite freshman Tobias. You are going to love watching this guy play.
(...and if you didn't get to see the game tonight, check out the highlights from UT's official site)