Wayne Chism gives Vols rare double-double, low-post presence
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl was scribbling furiously on his grease board in the locker room prior to the Vanderbilt game on Thursday night, singling out what had to happen for the Vols to beat 14th-ranked Vanderbilt.
His focus was on Wayne Chism.
If Chism could neutralize Vanderbilt's A.J. Ogilvy then Pearl was fairly confident the Vols would win.
What he didn't do was put a number next to Chism's name, the rebounds and points that Chism needed to reach for the Vols to win.
And why would he? How could Pearl have any idea that a modest scorer (8.5 points a game) and rebounder (5.1 a game) could produce staggering numbers like 18 points and a career-high 18 rebounds?
He couldn't. And don't expect Chism to duplicate it every game. But if he comes close or gets in the neighborhood of double-doubles like he did in Tennessee's 80-60 victory over the Commodores, then let's just say the seventh-ranked Vols (15-1 overall, 3-0 SEC) are ready to contend for San Antonio.
And the Vols found out on Thursday that Duke Crews, a sophomore forward like Chism, could be cleared to play any day after being diagnosed with a heart condition after his last game on Dec. 4, according to Pearl.
So, yeah, the Vols are feeling pretty good right now.
"I thought this matchup was all about Wayne Chism against Ogilvy," Pearl said. "[Ogilvy] is a terrific player and he's going to be a pro, but Wayne Chism is one of the better defensive players in the country. He beat Ogilvy to the ball, on the offensive backboard. I haven't seen Wayne Chism play like this. This was his coming-out party."
The 6-foot-9 Chism started to show he was capable of being a productive player when he scored 13 points in 14 minutes in a rout over South Carolina. He scored 17 points in 20 minutes in a win over West Virginia in Newark in November.
But he hasn't had one double-double this season.
The knock on the speedy, trap-oriented Vols is that they are too predictable, too reliant on the guards -- Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith, Jordan Howell and Ramar Smith -- and even wings Tyler Smith and J.P. Prince. The inside game was clearly the weak spot, a place where a team like Vandy with the freshman Ogilvy and his 19.4 points a game could flourish.
"His athleticism and size I guess [is what bothered me]," Ogilvy said after he scored 12 points,10 of which came in the second half. He also committed four turnovers.
"He went after the boards hard," Ogilvy said.
Chism said that for whatever reason, his mind isn't always "right". But he said he knew he was going against Ogilvy, the perceived top center in the SEC. And if Ogilvy didn't play well, then the Dores would lose.
"I mean, for us to be like that [a title contender], I've got to," Chism said of him being productive in the post. "I'm a big man that can move my feet. I'm glad coach gave me that kind of confidence."
The Crews news is huge for the Vols. Pearl said that Crews had extra evaluations on his heart and that he said Crews is expected to be diagnosed with an athletic heart. The coach said he is fairly confident that Crews will be cleared any day, possibly as early for Saturday's game against Ohio State or next Tuesday's game at Kentucky.
Using Crews (6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds) in the early going will be sensitive, not for his health but because of conditioning. During Crews' month away, he participated in no activities. Pearl said that he could see using Crews for 10 minutes a game to build up his stamina.
"It's always been a question mark, our inside scoring," Lofton said. "But with Tyler [and] Wayne stepping up, we've got an inside presence. If we get Duke, then that gives us a tough, hard-nosed player down low who can rebound, is aggressive and plays good defense."
But the reality is the Commodores aren't as tough in the post as Ole Miss was last week with Dwayne Curtis, Kenny Williams and Eniel Polynice. The Rebels pushed the Vols down to the final possession before losing, 85-83.
Chism had seven points and eight boards in that game but was 3 of 12 from the field.
"Our depth wasn't as strong without Duke, but if you put Wayne Chism [and] Tyler Smith on the frontline, then that's a dynamic duo," Pearl said. "Our ball pressure didn't bother Ole Miss. They pounded the ball inside, and we've got to find a way to beat those teams. The physically imposing teams are the ones that can give us the most trouble."
Well, that could mean teams like North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA and maybe even Memphis. The Vols will get a chance to prove itself against the Tigers with the state's most anticipated showdown on Feb. 23 at Fed Ex Forum.
That game will go along way toward potential No. 1 or 2 seeding for both teams. But how the Vols handle the road in the SEC, as the team that is now the one that can entice a court storming, will show how tough this squad is for March.
"I don't see a banner up there, no banner up there," Pearl said in regard to SEC championship banners in Thompson-Boling Arena. "This team is hungry. This is a hungry basketball team."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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