Thou shalt not steal?

If Tennessee's basketball players ever take the Eighth Commandment too literally, head coach Bruce Pearl could be in trouble.

Strict observance of the Commandment in question – "Thou shalt not steal" – would take away Tennessee's greatest advantage. The ball-hawking Vols have more steals than anyone in the Southeastern Conference. They average better than 10 per game, which is one of the key reasons they are 13-3 overall and 4-1 in SEC play at this point. UT had 12 steals in Wednesday night's 88-65 win at Mississippi State.

"When you get steals you take possessions away from the opponent," Pearl said on his post-game show. "The more possessions our opponent has, the more shots they take and the more we get exposed on the backboard."

The undersized Vols rank dead last among SEC teams in rebound margin. Obviously, the more times they can steal the ball, the more times they prevent their opponent from shooting and possibly grabbing an offensive rebound.

So, why are Tennessee's players so effective at basketball's version of larceny?

"It starts with ball pressure and guys making plays off the ball," Pearl said. "And I think part of it's being small – the fact we're down there on the floor (getting) loose balls and things like that."

In addition to helping stop the opponent's offense, enacting steals helps start the Vol offense by creating fast-break opportunities.

As Pearl noted: "It's a big part of creating offense from our defense."

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