Can seniors carry Vols?

One sip of Merlot doesn't qualify you as a wine connoisseur. Likewise, one taste of the Elite Eight doesn't qualify you as a grizzled veteran of March Madness.

That's pretty much the way Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl views his team heading into the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Although nine current players saw action during the 2010 squad's advance to the NCAA Round of Eight, most filled relatively minor roles in the Vols' tourney success.

"They may have tasted it but if they look back they probably remember that Wayne (Chism), J.P. (Prince) and Bobby (Maze) tasted it a little bit more," Pearl said.

The coach has a point. Seniors Chism, Prince and Maze basically put the team on their shoulders during the run to the Elite Eight last March. Prince shot 63.9 percent (23 of 36) and averaged 14.8 points in the four tourney games. Chism added 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, Maze 8.2 points and 4.0 assists per game.

Two current Vols also started during last March's Elite Eight run - wing Scotty Hopson and center Brian Williams.

Hopson made 3 of 9 shots vs. San Diego State, 7 of 9 vs. Ohio, 1 of 5 vs. Ohio State and 3 of 7 vs. Michigan State. He made 33 percent (5 of 15) from 3, averaging 9.5 points and 26.5 minutes per game.

Williams went 0 of 3 with 8 rebounds vs. San Diego State, 4 of 6 with 12 rebounds vs. Ohio, 4 of 5 with 12 rebounds vs. Ohio State and 5 of 8 with 9 rebounds vs. Michigan State. He averaged 7.5 points and 27.8 minutes per game.

"Brian had a good tournament," Pearl noted.

In addition, a couple of Vol reserves showed flashes last March. Wing Cameron Tatum was exceptional in the Sweet 16 game vs. Ohio State, hitting 3 of 4 shots, 2 of 3 from 3 and 3 of 3 free throws en route to 11 points in 14 relief minutes.

Point guard Melvin Goins, a San Diego native, had a spectacular outing in the tourney opener vs. San Diego State. He made 5 of 7 shots, 4 of 5 from 3 and scored a team-high 15 points in 19 backup minutes.

"Cameron Tatum had a really good game, and Melvin Goins had a great game against San Diego State," Pearl noted. "They had their moments."

Five more current Vols took part in The Dance last March - Steven Pearl (49 minutes), Josh Bone (30), Kenny Hall (23), Skylar McBee (6) and Renaldo Woolridge (1).

This Tennessee squad features five scholarship seniors - Williams, Goins, Pearl, Bone and first-year transfer John Fields. Perhaps they can put the team on their backs this March the way Chism, Prince and Maze did last March.

"Our experience is there," Bruce Pearl said. "How this team finishes will matter to everybody but it will matter to the seniors more than anybody else."

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