With Texas, Oklahoma State, Memphis and the usual Southeastern Conference toughies lurking in the months ahead, Tennessee must improve its backboard play significantly if it is to hang with the higher level of competition that awaits.
On a positive note, 6-7 senior Andre Patterson came off the bench to pull down 14 rebounds, helping the Vols post a 48-38 backboard advantage in a 64-53 defeat of Murray State last Wednesday in Nashville. Pearl had a hand in that performance, using a little pre-game psychology that prompted Patterson to crash the boards.
"I told Andre before the game, ‘Weren't you their leading rebounder last year?' " Pearl recalled. "Of course, I knew he was. I said, ‘Don't you want to keep that stat? Don't you want to stay with that?' "
So, why wasn't Patterson hitting the boards in Games 1 through 3 the way he did in Game 4?
"It hasn't been his focus," Pearl said.
Now it is.
With Patterson apparently stepping up his play under the boards, the next order of business is to get 6-10 Major Wingate to do the same. His rebound totals for the first four games were 2, 3, 5 and 5. That's an average of less than 4 per game. You'd think a guy who stands nearly 7-feet tall would get more rebounds than that by accident.
"Major is not a good rebounder for as big as he is; he's just not," Pearl said. "He doesn't see the ball and go to the spot. It's going to be a problem for him at the next level. I've got to get him to realize that and get more selfish with his rebounding."
Patterson, conversely, is a very good rebounder for his size. His problem is that, after missing a week of preseason drills and the first exhibition game on a disciplinary suspension, his stamina is a bit lacking.
"Andre is a good rebounder," Pearl conceded. "Andre does know where it's coming off and he's able to get there. But I've got to get Andre in a little better shape. I still don't think his conditioning is where I think it can be."