Erratic backcourt dashes high hopes for Tenn. Vols topple from Top 25; Princeton settles score against Bucknell by 41; National notebook


There have been a number of early-season disappointments, but Tennessee has probably fallen the farthest of any nationally ranked team over the first six weeks. The Volunteers started the season as a consensus Top 10 pick and right now are barely a blip on the radar screen trolling for potential Top 25 teams.

Tennessee's record is still a respectable 6-3, but two of its losses came on the road at Miami of Ohio and St. Joseph's.

Preseason expectations were centered on the return of guards Tony Harris and Brandon Wharton, who led the Vols to their first NCAA tournament appearance in nine years. There was much hype over the arrival of freshman Vincent Yarbrough, who chose the Vols over Kentucky.

The expectations have been lowered.

The hype has fizzled.

"Our backcourt is not playing very well," second-year coach Jerry Green said recently. "And Yarbrough is not totally comfortable. We thought he'd be in double figures every game and block shots, but he's just not there yet. He's improving a little every day, but he hasn't made the impact we thought he would."

Wharton, who made 43 percent of his three-point attempts last year, has made just six of 31 this year. Yarbrough, a 6-foot-8, 215-pound swingman, is averaging 6.6 points and 4.8 rebounds. Green is considering benching Wharton, moving Yarbrough to shooting guard and bringing Rashard Lee, who started much of last season, off the bench to start at small forward tomorrow at South Florida.

Green doesn't think his team was overrated coming into the season. But sophomore forward Isiah Victor, one of the few pleasant surprises this year, said that the Vols still have the potential to be the team everyone thought it might going into the season. "Hopefully by the end of the season we'll be back in the top 10," said Victor.

They have a long way to go.

Princeton's revenge

Two years ago, Bucknell came from 18 points down to win at Princeton.

Last week, the Bison didn't even have 18 points until the middle of the second half.

Both the halftime score and the final score might cause you to look twice. The Bison trailed at the half, 31-6, and wound up losing to the Tigers, 68-27, in a Dec. 9 game at Jadwin Gym. Bucknell coach Pat Flannery wasn't so much concerned with the final score as he was with a more important aspect of his players' lives.

"We were headed into six days of exams the next morning, and I was worried about their psyche," said Flannery.

It was the fewest number of points a Bucknell team had scored since a 25-15 loss to Penn State in 1950-51. The Bison had been averaging 66 points coming into the Princeton game.

Against the Tigers, Bucknell didn't score its first basket for more than six minutes, and its next basket -- a three-point shot -- until a little over four minutes were left in the first half. Bucknell didn't score its first basket of the second half for more than 4 1/2 minutes.

"When you're in this business, you're so focused on what's going on that you're not looking at the score," said Flannery. "We tried to do some things that didn't work, and things got out of hand."

St. Mary's secret

Who's the best forward in the San Francisco Bay area? Most would say Stanford's Mark Madsen, but it might be Eric Schraeder, a 6-9 senior for St. Mary's. Schraeder has made 35 of 72 threes this year while leading the West Coast Conference in scoring at 21.2. If 7-3, 360-pound center Brad "The Big Continent" Millard returns from the broken foot that has sidelined him for more than a year, St. Mary's might have one of the nation's best frontcourts.

Another WCC team, Gonzaga, might be able to lay claim to being the best Division I program in the state of Washington this season. The Bulldogs have beaten Eastern Washington by 22, Washington State by nine and, most recently, Washington by nine. And what's more, none of those games came on Gonzaga's home court.

New Mexico has won each of its six games without All-America candidate Kenny Thomas, who is expected to return tomorrow against Cal State-Sacramento after serving an NCAA-imposed penalty dating to some questionable test scores coming out of high school. Without Thomas, the Lobos have been led by junior forward Lamont Long, whose 26.2 points a game leads the country.

Pub Date: 12/18/98

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