Pearl looking for 'D'

The guys who catch Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl's eye in tonight's exhibition finale vs. Indianapolis will earn spots in the playing rotation for Friday night's regular-season opener vs. Chattanooga.

And the key to catching Pearl's eye is simple:

"Once we all get healthy," the coach said, "the determining factor in who's out there and what roles they'll play is who can defend and who'll rebound."

That's asking a lot of Tennessee's freshmen since most of them weren't asked to play a lot of defense in high school. Pearl concedes as much, noting that "We recruit offense and teach defense, so we've got a ways to go."

Still, the coach will not compromise his standards, no matter how talented freshmen Tobias Harris, Jordan McRae and Trae Golden might be on the offensive end of the floor. If the rookies don't play defense, they won't earn meaningful minutes. When asked if that might be expecting a bit much of them at this stage of their development, Pearl shrugged.

"If the freshmen want to be out there, they'd better expect themselves to defend better," he said. "They all want to be out there. I think it's the fairest way I can do it (divide playing time).

"We've got enough offense, enough guys that can score. It (defense) is the area where they've got the greatest amount of learning. I don't think any of them are concerned. They're all unselfish kids."

That may be but they're also eager kids. They want to make impact right away, not squirm on the bench until they grow familiar with the nuances of Tennessee's defensive scheme. Pearl understands this.

"The key word is patience," the coach said, "and all of these guys are as good as they are because they're somewhat impatient."

In addition to defense and rebounding, Pearl will be assessing his team's conditioning tonight. It surprised him a bit in last Wednesday night's 91-42 blowout of Brevard College in exhibition No. 1.

"I thought our conditioning wasn't bad," he said. "I thought we'd be a little bit more winded than we were. I don't believe in having the guys in their best shape in early November. It's a long season, and I think that's why our teams play well in March."

Tonight's exhibition tips off at 7:30 in Thompson-Boling Arena.

INJURY UPDATE: Junior wing Cameron Tatum should play tonight after missing the first exhibition game due to a bone bruise on his knee. Sophomore post Kenny Hall is unlikely to play as he continues to recuperate from a nagging foot injury. Senior guard Josh Bone is out 6-8 weeks with a fractured wrist suffered in the final minutes of the exhibition opener.


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