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Game Day: Kevin Punter settling in

RALEIGH, N.C. — Kevin Punter wasn’t concerned.

It was the afternoon of Dec. 9. Three days earlier the junior college transfer had scored seven points on 2-of-7 shooting in Tennessee’s one-point win against Kansas State.

He was now averaging 9.2 points and shooting 41.2 percent from the field.

Not bad. Not exactly what Punter had in mind, either.

“I’m still getting my legs under me,” he said. “A lot of people, I feel like, are kind of worried. But I’m not. I’ve been going through this for a while now. I’m going to pick it up.”

The junior two guard did just that in UT’s upset of Butler on Sunday. He scored the Vols’ first four points and finished with a career-high 18 points on 7-10 shooting. He showcased a mid-range jumper that rivaled that of UT lead scorer Josh Richardson. Together the two combined for 38 points to help topple the Bulldogs.

“He drove the ball, was aggressive off the dribble,” UT coach Donnie Tyndall said after the game. “He didn’t settle for bad shots. Kev is a good player when he does that. He was really good tonight.”

Punter will look to keep his momentum rolling as UT (4-3) plays its first true road game of the season tonight (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.) against N.C. State (8-2).

“I don’t know that Kevin is every going to be a guy that averages 18 a game,” Tyndall said Tuesday. “But I certainly think he is a double-figure scorer. He scored it well in junior college. He’s a guy that lets the game come to him. He doesn’t take a lot of bad shots. He is getting more and more comfortable with the speed at this level, how fast Division I basketball is. He settled in.”

Punter was a prolific scorer at State Fair Community College (Sedalia, Mo.) last season. He averaged 20.3 points and  shot 57.1 percent from the field. His 651 points tied for 13th among junior-college players. He was named first-team junior college All-American.

It’s probably unrealistic to expect that production to make the leap to the Division I level in its entirety. But Tyndall, who relied heavily on junior-college transfers at Southern Miss, can speak to how JuCo guys like Punter tend to hit their stride after the first semester. It takes some time to adjust. One good came can lead to another. And so on.

“I think any newcomer would have a little more swagger playing that well against such a quality opponent,” Tyndall said.

The more offensive firepower Punter can add, the better. Just ask Richardson if he needs some help.

“He played a great game (against Butler),” Richardson said. “I’m going to tell him to keep attacking.”


“Probably six steals. I almost got the (school) record. I’m going to get it this year, though. Watch.” -  Richardson on if he was more proud of his season-high 20 points against Butler or his career-high six steals

“T.J. Warren is gone.” – Richardson on what he takes from last year’s loss to N.C. State

“Those guy are all going to do some good things. Then they’re going to do some things where you scratch your head saying, ‘Wow, can you believe he did that?” — Tyndall on his trio of freshmen forwards, Willie Carmichael, Jabari McGhee and Tariq Owens

Numbers to Know:

1: N.C. State sophomore center BeeJay Anya leads the ACC in blocked shots. He averages 3.7 blocks per game. As a team the Wolf Pack ranks first in the ACC and sixth in the nation in blocked shots (6.9).

+5.7: Armani Moore’s plus-minus rating, the best on the team

6.1: Number of free throws N.C. State point guard Cat Barber averages per game

16.3: Number of points N.C. State guard Ralston Turner has averaged over the last three games

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AP Top 25: Ben Frederickson’s College Hoops Ballot


A weekly look at the ballot Tennessee men’s basketball beat writer Ben Frederickson submits to the Associated Press. Shifts from last week are listed after the team name. Disagree? Sound off to @Ben_Fred.

1) Kentucky
2) Arizona
3) Duke
4) Louisville (+2)
5) Gonzaga (-1)
6) Wisconsin (-1)
7) Villanova (+1)
8) Virginia (-1)
9) Kansas
10) Texas
11) Ohio State (+1)
12) Wichita State (+1)
13) Utah (-2)
14) Oklahoma
15) St. Johns (+1)
16) Notre Dame (+1)
17) Maryland (+2)
18) Iowa State (+2)
19) Washington (+2)
20) Miami (+4)
21) Colorado State
22) TCU
23) San Diego State
24) Northern Iowa  (-6)
25) Butler (-10)

Biggest Mover: Butler. The Bulldogs cruised into Thompson-Boling Arena on a four-game win streak, off to their best start since 2008. The Vols spoiled the party by erasing a 12-point second-half lead. Butler is good, but no longer deserving of the No. 15 tag.

Comings and Goings: Welcome to still-unbeaten Colorado State and TCU. Adios to Illinois (lost to Oregon) and Georgetown (its loss to Butler looks worse now that the Bulldogs are dropping).


Game Day: Vols hopeful for 3-point turnaround


The first thing I noticed upon walking into Thompson-Boling Arena today was Detrick Mostella shooting 3-pointer after 3-pointer while assistant coach Chris Shumate shagged balls.

It was an hour and 40 minutes until tip.

When UT (3-3) hosts No. 15 Butler (8-1) this afternoon (2 p.m. on ESPNU) it will be another chance for the Vols to turn their not-so-great 3-point shooting around.

Mostella’s 3-point percentage of 32 is second on the team, behind only Josh Richardsons’ 36 percent. As a team the Vols have shot a troubling 26.5 percent from deep.

Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall doesn’t think those numbers represent the true makeup of his team.

“I think we have a pretty good shooting team, I really do,” he said this week. “I don’t think we have any selfish guys. I do think we have taken some tough, contested shots, which we point out in our film sessions after every game. The speed of this level and the tempo of the game, it’s always an adjustment. You may be a great shooter in high school, and your first half of your first year at this level, you are missing shots or rushing shots you’ve made your entire career to this point. I do think we shoot the ball pretty well from the perimeter. It takes some time for these guys to make an adjustment. And we have to clean up taking some tough shots as well.


“We have pretty good length. Usually we like to extend our zone and get to what we call one gap, one arm’s length from whoever is handling the ball. But with the foul trouble we’ve had, the trouble we’ve had guarding the dribble and people getting inside our zone, we just tried to back it up, what we call ‘one big step outside the three.’ Shrink the floor and let that length wear on people.” — Tyndall on the tweak he made to his matchup zone after the Orlando Classic

“He’s made some strides. He’s another guy that can score the ball and give us some size in the backcourt.” — Tyndall on Devon Baulkman

“Through the roof.” — junior guard Kevin Punter on what a win against Butler would do to team confidence

Numbers to Know:

1: Butler ranks No. 1 in the Big East in scoring defense (54.2 points). That’s 12th nationally.

2: Ken Pomeroy predicts a 2-point victory for Butler today.

3: Ut ranks third in the nation in fouls per game (25).

5: UT senior guard Josh Richardson ranks fifth in the SEC in scoring (16 ppg).

10: UT has attempted just 10 more free throws (126) than their opponents have made.


AP image

AP Top 25: Ben Frederickson’s College Hoops Ballot


A weekly look at the ballot Tennessee men’s basketball beat writer Ben Frederickson submits to the Associated Press. Shifts from last week are listed after the team name. Disagree? Sound off to @Ben_Fred.

1) Kentucky
2) Arizona
3) Duke (+1)
4) Gonzaga (+2)
5) Wisconsin (-2)
6) Louisville (+2)
7) Virginia (+4)
8) Villanova (+2)
9) Kansas
10) Texas (-3)
11) Utah
12) Ohio State (+1)
13) Wichita State (-8)
14) Oklahoma (+9)
15) Butler (+7)
16) St. Johns
17) Notre Dame
18) Northern Iowa
19) Maryland (+1)
20) Iowa State (+5)
21) Washington
22) Georgetown
23) San Diego State (-11)
24) Miami (-9)
25) Illinois (-6)

Biggest Mover: I was probably too harsh on San Diego State, although five voters left them unranked altogether. Regardless the Mountain West’s shining star is a little dimmer after the the Aztecs lost a 49-36 rock fight at Washington. Related: Welcome to my ballot, undefeated Washington (7-0).

Comings and Goings: Along with Washington, hello to Utah, St. John’s, Notre Dame, Northern Iowa, Washington and Georgetown. Adios to West Virginia, Michigan State (again), VCU, Michigan, North Carolina, Arkansas and Miami.

Tariq Owens

Game Day: Is Tariq Owens up next?

On Thursday Donnie Tyndall was asked if he plans to change his starting lineup once again when UT (2-3) hosts Kansas State (4-3) in a SEC/Big 12 Challenge game on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 3:17 p.m.) at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The coach smiled.

He’s used four different starting lineups in five games. Why stop tweaking things now?

“We’ll see,” he said.

But Tyndall offered a few clues. Freshman guard Detrick Mostella is trending up after the Orlando Classic, as is junior guard Devon Baulkman. Also prominently mentioned was freshman forward Tariq Owens.

“Tariq Owens was good against Kansas, and I didn’t go back to him in the Marquette game,” Tyndall said. “So, we’re going to give him an opportunity to start playing more minutes.”

The 6-foot-10 Owens (0.3 ppg, 0.7 rpg) has averaged just 5.3 minutes per game this season. He didn’t leave the bench during the Santa Clara win and the Marquette loss at the Orlando Classic.

But in between those games, in part because his frontcourt teammates became burdened by foul trouble,  he logged a season-high nine minutes in an 82-67 loss to Kansas. This wasn’t cleanup time, either. He was in the game as UT worked to erase a 13-point lead in the second half, a sign of resiliency overshadowed by KU’s final push.

In the past Tyndall has allowed media members to watch at least an hour of practice once a week. This week he closed practices, so we didn’t get a chance to see which players were running with the first team. But don’t be surprised if Owens is turned to earlier and more often against the Wildcats today. UT forwards Derek Reese, Jabari McGhee and Willie Carmichael have all started at least one game this season. Is it Owens’ time?


“A lot of people are saying the Big 12 is the best league in the country this season.” – Tyndall on SEC/Big 12 Challenge

“Nothing. I know I keep telling you guys I hope it will be this week. But still nothing at this point.” Tyndall on the eligibility status of freshman-walk-on point guard Braxton Bonds

“Sometimes we get a little too pumped up and try to play overly aggressive.” – forward Armani Moore on UT’s foul trouble

Numbers to Know:

0: Number of times UT and Kansas State have played before.

1: Where UT ranks nationally in fouls per game (26.2) You can read more about that here.

2: Number of points UT is favored to win by, according to Vegas Insider.

8: Number of floor burns (diving efforts) Jabari McGhee has this season. He leads the team, barely ahead of Armani Moore (seven).

9: Points scored by Josh Richardson in the Marquette loss, his lowest total of the season. Richardson (15.8 ppg) ranks sixth in the SEC in scoring.

Burwell Blog

Remembering Bryan Burwell

I will never forget how Bryan Burwell could take over a room.

It’s the memory that came rushing back when I heard the terrible news he is gone.

I was a junior at Missouri, another new student reporter on the basketball beat, a kid who, let’s face it, asked the kind of questions that made players, coaches and veterans like Burwell roll their eyes.

Burwell never rolled his eyes. But we’ll get to that.

He was cool, man. That’s what struck me. Here I was, front row of a postgame press conference, computer perched on my lap. And there he was, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, dressed sharp as hell, posted up by the wall, drawing everyone in. We couldn’t help it. Moths to a light.

The players even nodded at him when they arrived. Can you believe that? I had never seen anything like it. And later, if he wanted, he might follow the coach into the hallway to continue a conversation. Because Burwell didn’t ask questions. He started conversations. And those conversations led to columns that ranged from cutting, insightful, sentimental or any other chord he decided to strum in the pages of the Post-Dispatch.

“He just had a knack of knowing when to say the right thing,” Kim English said.

English was one of those Missouri players who used to nod at Burwell. We exchanged messages Thursday, swapped Burwell stories because that’s how storytellers should be remembered.

I reminded English about they way Burwell could take over a room. He reminded me about how Burwell always made it a conversation.

Example: English went through a nasty shooting slump as a junior. Couldn’t buy a bucket. A lot of people, myself included, asked him why he was struggling. Insert English rolling his eyes here.

Burwell took a different approach. English could shoot. He knew it. We knew it. What did he have to do to get back to normal?

No eye roll. Conversation started.

“Even when I didn’t want to read something after a blowout, I would,” English said. “I knew it would be honest.”

“He was smart. I loved him.”

So did so many others. Scroll through Twitter, where superstars like Albert Pujols, John Calipari, Jalen Rose and Magic Johnson joined sportswriters in mourning. Burwell pulled no punches, yet the people he covered were drawn to him, too.

If watching Burwell work was my only interaction with the man, I would be better for it. Generously, he offered more. I was one of the countless college kids he validated with a handshake. I got to talk shop with him as a Post-Dispatch intern. And later, while working for a website in St. Louis, I had the privilege of hearing his laugh, full of life, fill the work room at Rams Park.

He could make you laugh until you cried as he recapped wild nights the NBA players he used to cover had on the road.

He could deliver a journalism master’s class in a breath, describing how he followed Chris Webber after the 1993 national championship because he knew the disgraced Michigan star’s walk off the court offered the most powerful scene.

Just like that, Burwell had drawn you in again. Everyone in the room was in the palm of his hand.

He couldn’t help it. Moths to a light.

AP photo

AP Top 25: Ben Frederickson’s College Hoops Ballot


A weekly look at the ballot Tennessee men’s basketball beat writer Ben Frederickson submits to the Associated Press. Shifts from last week are listed after the team name. Disagree? Sound off to @Ben_Fred.

1) Kentucky
2) Arizona
3) Wisconsin
4) Duke
5) Wichita State
6) Gonzaga (+1)
7) Texas (+1)
8) Louisville (+1)
9) Kansas (+1)
10) Villanova (+2)
11) Virginia
12) San Diego State (+2)
13) Ohio State (+3)
14) Arkansas (+4)
15) Miami (+5)
16) West Virginia (+6)
17) North Carolina (-11)
18) Michigan (-1)
19) Illinois
20) Maryland
21) Michigan State
22) Butler
23) Oklahoma (-2)
24) VCU (-11)
25) Iowa State (-10)

Biggest Mover: North Carolina. Butler’s better than we thought, obviously. But North Carolina doesn’t get to stay in the top ten after dropping a game to the Bulldogs in the Bahamas.

Coming and Going: Hello to Illinois, Maryland and Butler. Welcome back, Michigan State. Adios to UCLA, Stanford, Co


AP image

AP Top 25: Ben Frederickson’s College Hoops Ballot


A weekly look at the ballot Tennessee men’s basketball beat writer Ben Frederickson submits to the Associated Press. Shifts from last week are listed after the team name. Disagree? Sound off to @Ben_Fred.

1) Kentucky
2) Arizona
3) Wisconsin
4) Duke
5) Wichita State
6) North Carolina (+1)
7) Gonzaga (+1)
8) Texas (+1)
9) Louisville (+1)
10) Kansas (-4)
11) Virginia (+1)
12) Villanova (+1)
13) VCU (+1)
14) San Diego State (+2)
15) Iowa State (+1)
16) Ohio State (+2)
17) Michigan (+5)
18) Arkansas (+7)
19) UCLA
20) Miami
21) Oklahoma (-6)
22) West Virginia
23) Connecticut (-4)
24) Florida (-13)
25) Stanford (-1)

Biggest Mover: Florida. The Gators dropped a two-point game to Miami then need overtime to beat UL Monroe by … two. To be fair, Billy Donovan’s team is playing without starting guard Eli Carter (sprained foot) and starting forward Dorian Finney-Smith (broken fingers). Six voters left UF unranked this week. Maybe they’re right. I think they’ll get back on track, eventually.

Dropouts: Adios to SMU, Michigan State and Syracuse.  Welcome, UCLA, Miami and West Virginia.

Just Outside: Georgetown. The Hoyas play Florida on Wednesday. A win puts them in, and drops the Gators out.


Tennessee forward Dominic Woodson out against Texas Southern


Tennessee basketball’s biggest big man will be sidelined for the Vols’ home opener against Texas Southern tonight.

Sophomore forward Dominic Woodson, who injured his left hand during Sunday’s practice, is not not dressed out for the game.

Woodson did not start in UT’s season opener against VCU, but scored four points and pulled down five rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.

Joining Woodson on the sideline is graduate transfer guard Ian Chiles, who is nursing a sprained toe. Chiles was wearing a walking boot on his right foot during warmups.

Junior guard Devon Baulkman, who did not travel with the team for the VCU game due to a left shoulder injury, is expected to play tonight.




mcghee blog

Game Day: Tennessee freshman Jabari McGhee is trending up

The best thing about Tennessee freshman Jabari McGhee so far seems to be his willingness to embrace his niche.

Just ask him.

“That’s what coach recruited me for, to get rebounds,” said the 6-foot-8 forward this week. “I’m not a scorer. My job is to get rebounds, and I know that. As long as I know my role, I’ll be fine.”

That role might expand when UT (0-1) hosts Texas Southern (0-2) tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena as it attempts to stretch its streak of successful home openers to 23.

McGhee only logged 12 minutes off the bench in UT’s season-opening loss to No. 15 VCU, but he was one of the players UT coach Donnie Tyndall complimented afterward.

He made the most out of his limited time, totaling seven points and six rebounds. Only starter Armani Moore, who played 27 minutes, pulled down more rebounds. McGhee also, somehow, managed to foul out of the game. Tyndall is willing to overlook that.

“He got in against VCU and didn’t play scared,” Tyndall said. “He was aggressive. He was tough. He played with confidence. He is raw offensively and has a way to go, but he went and tried to rebound the ball, he rotated over and took a charge, if I remember correctly. He did some ‘winning play’ type of stuff. It’s not always pretty, but he’s an effort guy. He gave us some good minutes. I probably should have played him a little more”

Tyndall said McGhee joined the first team for Sunday’s practice. He was still there for Monday’s open session as well. Will he be there tonight? Hard to say for sure, but since UT sophomore forward Dominic Woodson sustained a left hand injury in Sunday’s practice and is questionable for the game, there’s a good chance McGhee plays more than 12 minutes.


“There were three or four times, particularly late in the shot clock, where our deal is, we would rather you drive it and run three or four guys over trying to get a charge than settle for a 20-footer.” — Tyndall on shot selection against VCU

“We don’t expect Josh to be Chris Paul tomorrow. It takes time, and he’s getting better every day.” — Tyndall on Josh Richardson’s development at point guard

“I don’t think too many of these guys ever hear too many negative things in their life — period. So, when you’re honest with them and you keep it real with them, sometimes it hurts their feelings a little bit. But the truth is the truth. I told them I have to do a better job of coaching, and I believe that. And they have to be better as players in some areas as well.” — Tyndall on the feedback he gave his players after VCU loss.

Numbers to Know:

1965: The last time UT started a season 0-2. Ray Mears’ Vols lost to Michigan then Vanderbilt.

17,151: Average attendance number for home openers at Thompson-Boling Arena, including a draw of 15,119 for last season’s game against USC Upstate.

16: Number of free throws UT missed against VCU.

17: Detrick Mostella’s point total against VCU. It was the most in a UT debut since Tobias Harris dropped 18 in 2010.