Why 'small ball' is working

There's an old cliche that says, ''It's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog.''

You may have been reminded of this as you watched Tennessee's basketball team Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. A small lineup -- just one starter over 6-feet-5 -- gave a big effort as the Vols trounced LSU 77-55.

For the second game in a row Tennessee started 6-foot-10 Major Wingate and four guards. And for the second game in a row the Vols pulled down 15 offensive rebounds. The Big Orange has surpassed that total just once all season, spearing 18 vs. Wofford back in late November.

So why is ''Small Ball'' producing so much success on the backboards? Easy. Little guys giving a big effort are more effective than big guys giving a little effort. Head coach Buzz Peterson believes the shorter players also are offsetting their disadvantage in height by maximizing their advantage in speed.

''I guess it's quickness,'' he said. ''Stanley (Asumnu) and Dane (Bradshaw) and those guys have really taken the initiative to get some boards. I told 'em we're probably going to get hurt there unless they give good effort.''

Despite the four-guard lineup, Tennessee was outrebounded by just three (35-32) at Vanderbilt Feb. 2 and by four (39-35) against LSU Feb. 5. The 6-foot-3 Bradshaw spear six rebounds and the 6-foot-5 Asumnu grab four in the latter, enabling the Vols to hang with the taller Tigers on the boardboards.

Conversely, Tennessee has been killed on the boards several times this season, despite starting big lineups. The Vols were outrebounded 44-27 by Texas on Nov. 24, 38-28 by Vanderbilt on Jan. 8, 38-27 by Mississippi State on Jan. 12, 42-30 by Florida on Jan. 19 and 41-29 by Kentucky on Jan. 25.

Offensive rebounds are especially crucial. Each team gets roughly 50 possessions in an average game. If Team A gets 20 offensive rebounds and Team B just four, Team A will have approximately 16 more shot attempts. If Team A make 50 percent of these, that's an additional 16 points. That's how Florida hung an 85-54 whipping on Alabama Saturday in Gainesville. The Gators got 19 offensive rebounds, Bama just five.

''I've watched it, and the big thing that stands out more than anything else was how Florida got those offensive rebounds,'' Peterson said. ''Those second and third opportunities can help you win games. We've got to continue going to the offensive glass, getting those extra shots.''

Tennessee hosts Alabama Wednesday night at 8, then hosts Florida Saturday at 5.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories