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Straight dope or straight nope: the UT hoops edition

UT hoops

Welcome to Straight Dope or Straight Nope: The UT Hoops Edition, just in time for the Vols’ first SEC contest. The concept is simple. I throw out a statement, then tell you whether it’s fact (the straight dope) or fiction (a straight nope). Let’s get started.

Straight dope or straight nope: the UT hoops edition

No Maymon, no chance

Straight nope. Losing him for the season hurts. How could it not? But it was just three years ago when Tyler Smith was booted off the team for rolling dirty (speaking of straight dope) with teammates Cameron Tatum, Brian Williams and Melvin Goins. And if that wasn’t bad enough, each of the other three earned substantial suspensions (and rightfully so) for their involvement in the traveling weed and gun show. Yet that team somehow rallied together, played tough against their conference foes, and wound up a mere bucket away from the Final Four.

So (a) anything can happen, and (b) unlike the 2009-10 Vols, this year’s team never had the luxury of having their best player on the floor, which is actually a good thing. Because it’s not like we’re actually losing anything as it relates to what we’ve been used to thus far this year.

I do think, however, that reaching the NCAA tourney will be a stretch. UT will probably need a minimum of 12 conference wins, and even then, the Vols would only have 20  – an accomplishment that isn’t quite the tourney lock it used to be. Plus, given how down the SEC is this year (12-33 against BCS schools), a 20-win SEC team would probably still need to make noise in the conference tourney to go dancing.

So no Maymon, no chance? I say there is a chance. At least as it pertains to an NCAA tourney berth. But it’s not a huge one.

Jarnell Stokes is an elite player

That’s a straight nope. Look, I love Jarnell, but I’m amazed at how many people consider him an elite player. Some are even concerned he won’t be around for Maymon’s redshirt senior year because he’ll opt to go pro. Newsflash — that ain’t an option for Jarnell. At least not as things stand right now. Because his game is nowhere near where it needs to be to get drafted by an NBA team. He hasn’t even figured out how to play with his back to the basket yet.

He’s got all the potential in the world to be great. And we all want him to be great. But he’s not great, y’all. At least not yet. He’s just okay. So, no. Jarnell Stokes is not an elite player. He’s a clumsy one.

South Park has asked Cuonzo to replace Isaac Hayes as the voice of Chef

This is a straight nope, but I cannot for the life of me understand why. Because that should totally happen. Minus the singing part.

Skylar McBee is in a shooting slump

This, too, is a straight nope. Skylar McBee is not in a shooting slump. Skylar McBee is in a Jeronne Maymon slump. The only open looks McBee’s getting are coming from good ball movement around the perimeter. So the defender might be out of position, but he’s still on the perimeter, which means Skylar’s open, but he’s not wide open.

You know what gives a guy like McBee wide open looks? A strong inside-out game. And without Maymon, we don’t have one. Which is why McBee’s only shooting 30% from behind the arc. Regardless, Skylar can and will get hot from time to time. Because Skylar is an overachiever and leaves it all on the hardwood each and every night for the Vols. So he’ll have his moments where he greatly helps this team.

Just don’t look for McBee to get close to the 39% mark he established from three-point land last year. Because without a strong inside-out game, it ain’t gonna happen.

Speaking of Skylar, his facial hair is a good look

Tough one, no? If we’re going comparatively speaking, then this is the straight dope. Because this thing he’s got going this year is WAY better than the “pillie-dawg” he went with last year. (“Pillie dawg” is official Basement Braintrust vernacular. “Pillie” is a derivation of caterpillar, as in What’s that caterpillar doing on your upper lip? Which, of course, makes pillie-dawg slang for mustache.)

Even so, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to give this one a straight nope. Because, I’m sorry Skylar, but this is not a good look. Unless you think looking like a mashup of Pistol Pete Marovich and Colonel Sanders as seen shortly before attending a Nickelback show is a good look.

Trae Golden is in a shooting slump

This is obviously the straight dope. Trae’s just one for 16 from the field in the last three games, and what’s even worse, he’s only dished out six assists in those contests – three below his per-game average for the year. And now he’s nursing a sore shoulder thanks to finding himself on the wrong end of a Jarnell Stokes pick in practice. Not exactly where you want your team’s scoring leader to be mentally and / or physically heading into conference play. But if Golden’s proved anything in his days at UT it’s that he’s a tough customer. Look for him to find a way to play himself out of this.

Brandon Lopez is an important player for this team

Straight dope thanks in large part to Golden’s slump. Lopez has seen way more playing time in the past couple of games and each time he provided a much-needed spark that helped changed the course of the game. Even when Trae Golden returns to being Trae Golden, Lopez will still give the Vols valuable minutes off the bench.

Brandon Lopez’s nickname is B-Lo

Straight dope, or so I assume from this piece in the Times Free Press in which Golden refers to him as such.

B-Lo is a good nickname

I’m uncomfortable with it. Unless he were like an escort of something. And even then it’s questionable. Straight nope.

UT is a train wreck on offense

This is straight dope, people. The Vols have had final scores of 45, 36, 38 and 51 points, losing all but one of those games.

UT will be a train wreck on offense for the rest of the season

Straight nope.

I predicted three things in the Memphis game. First, that Josh Richardson would have a career high in scoring. And he did, with 20 points. Second, that Jordan McRae would have a monster game. And he did, scoring 26 in what was also a career high. Yet, I also predicted that UT would win a low scoring game. Which was obviously way off. They lost 85-80.

So here was my question coming out of that game: are explosive offensive efforts (like the ones we saw from McRae and Richardson) and great team defense mutually exclusive of one another? Because they shouldn’t be. There’s a middle ground out there, and if the Vols are to have any success this year, they need to find it. I believe they will which means, soon, their offense will no longer be of the train-wreck variety.

Don’t get me wrong. They’ll continue to hang their hats on their gritty defense. That’s this team’s identity (every Cuonzo team’s identity?) and it should be. But look for us to find ways to run in transition more in order to give long, lean athletic players like McRae and Richardson the chance to contribute some much-needed offense to the mix.

Tonight’s game against Mississippi is a must win

Obviously a straight nope because it’s so early in conference play. But at the same time, there’s zero room for error in SEC play. To get those 12 conference wins I referenced earlier, we’ll need to get every single winnable game possible. Then sneak out one or two we probably shouldn’t win. This one’s winnable. So we need to get it.

Plus, there’s this: SEC teams that will likely qualify for the NCAA tourney are Florida, Missouri, Kentucky along with maybe one other. That fourth team? ESPN’s Joe Lunardi believes it’ll be Ole Miss while SI.com’s Andy Glockner thinks UT will be the one.

So given the fact that these two might be vying for SEC’s final spot in the NCAA tournament come March? We really need to get the W tonight. Especially at home.

Vols beat Ole Miss tonight

Straight dope. In a close contest where each team reaches the mid to high 50s.

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