'D' is better but ...

The fact Tennessee limited each of its last two opponents to less than 40-percent shooting has not reduced coach Bruce Pearl's concerns about the Vol defense.

"It's going to be an issue all year long," he said recently. "Nothing's changed. You're not going to hear anything new from me."

The Vols (8-1) limited Alabama A&M to 38.7 percent shooting in Game 8, then limited Lipscomb to 35.7 in Game 9. Of course, each team is shooting around 40 percent for the season, so it wasn't exactly the Duke Blue Devils Tennessee was shutting down the last two outings.

Although the Vols have made progress defensively since the season began, they will face big-time match-up problems once they launch Southeastern Conference play. As a result, Tennessee may have to rely as much on smoke and mirrors as size and ability in attempting to stop SEC foes.

"We're not physically gifted enough, big enough or deep enough to dictate to an opponent how we're going to defend," Pearl said. "We're going to defend differently every night. On teams we need to extend, we'll extend. On teams we need to pack it in, we'll pack it in. We've got to be multiple."

Tennessee's opponents are shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from beyond the arc. Since the Vol offense is predicated on quick outlet passes and transition baskets, those numbers need to improve a bit. The players realize this.

"They're aware of it," Pearl said. "You can't be up-tempo when you're taking the ball out of the net all the time (after made baskets). I told the team: ‘Look, if you want to run, let's play defense and rebound. Then we'll get down the floor and score some points.'"

Tennessee hosts South Alabama Wednesday at 7 in its final pre-conference game.

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