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December 3, 2007

Wildcats, Vols not meeting expectations

Last week we came to praise a couple of teams (Texas and Brigham Young) we felt like we had underrated.

It happens every year to every media outlet. Invariably some teams turn out better than expected.

Plenty of teams also turn out worse than expected. This week we come to kick ourselves over a couple of teams that we now don't believe are as good as we thought they'd be.

To borrow from Dennis Green with our own twist: They aren't who we thought they were.

Yes, they still have plenty of time to right the ship. Yes, they still very well could turn out to be NCAA Tournament teams. But for right now, the teams Basketball Editor Bob McClellan and staff writer Andrew Skwara picked as the ones that have not met their expectations just aren't quite right. Here's who they chose:

McClellan's pick: Tennessee

Before the season began I was fool enough to mention in a couple of public forums that I believed it was possible for Tennessee to go through the SEC undefeated. Florida had lost everyone. Kentucky was down. Vanderbilt had lost the coaches' pick for SEC Player of the Year. Georgia was down. South Carolina was South Carolina.

The Vols were sixth in the Rivals.com Preseason Top 25. I viewed them as a legitimate threat to win the national championship. Now I hear Lee Corso in my head saying, "Not so fast, my friend."

The Vols are 6-1, but really they've played only two "loseable" games, West Virginia and Texas, both of which were at a neutral site. They beat the Mountaineers 74-72, and got slaughtered by the Longhorns, 97-78.

Texas led by as many as 22. The Longhorns shot 63.6 percent, in part because they knocked down open shots (10 of 20 from 3-point range) and in part because the Vols showed little inclination toward playing defense. Texas converted 71.4 percent of its shots inside the arc (25 of 35). Too many of them were uncontested.

Worse yet, the Vols been outrebounded on the season, 37.7-38.3. Before you think a minus-.6 rebounding margin isn't serious, consider the opponents. Among them were Division II Arkansas-Monticello, North Carolina A&T and Prairie View A&M. North Carolina A&T was 300th in rebounding margin last season. Prairie View was 316th.

Two nights after the Vols beat Prairie View 89-75, the Mountaineers beat the Panthers 106-41.

The Vols are ridiculously talented. They have Chris Lofton, the Associated Press SEC Player of the Year last season. Tyler Smith made the Big Ten All-Freshman Team before transferring to UT from Iowa. Wayne Chism, Duke Crews and Ramar Smith were on the SEC All-Freshman team. JaJuan Smith ranked ninth in the SEC in scoring and second in steals.

The Vols weren't a very good rebounding team last season, either, and they still made the Sweet 16. But until they take at least a passing interest in playing defense and hitting the boards, I'd be hard-pressed to call them a threat to hang a banner in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Skwara's pick: Kansas State

I've already given up on Kansas State making any kind of run in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, if some key players don't return, they may be headed to the NIT for the second consecutive year.

Freshman Michael Beasley has been everything we expected and more. In fact, Beasley may be the nation's top player. However, his supporting cast is far from what I envisioned.

Senior forward David Hoskins, who underwent a second knee surgery last month, has yet to play. When recently asked about Hoskins' status, coach Frank Martin said his main concern is that Hoskins can live a healthy life. Translation: He's going to be out for a while. That's a big blow considering Hoskins averaged 14.5 points and 5.9 rebounds a game last season. The youth-laden Wildcats were counting on that production and his leadership.

They were also counting on the explosive Bill Walker, who dominated the AAU circuit a couple of years ago. Instead, they've gotten an underachieving forward with shooting problems. Walker, who had knee surgery for a torn ACL last season, is shooting 35 percent from the field and 14 percent from 3-point range.

The status of four-star recruit Dominique Sutton also remains uncertain. Sutton did not meet the qualifying standards needed to enroll in the fall, but is hoping to get eligible by mid-December. An explosive wing, Sutton was going to make an immediate impact.

I thought the combination of Beasley, Hoskins, Sutton and Walker would form a dominating frontcourt, dominating enough to make them the third-best (or possibly the second-best) team in the Big 12.

Beasley is headed toward one of the best seasons we have seen from a freshman, but he needs more help. A lot more. The Wildcats have already lost to George Mason and needed overtime to beat Central Florida. Division II Pittsburg State even gave them a scare.

Those are the kind of results we expect from a team that will be lucky to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 especially with Texas (No. 8) and Texas A&M (No. 9) looking better than most people envisioned.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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