Who will Pearl start?

Some heads reportedly turned when Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl suggested during the recent SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., that two – maybe three – of the Volunteers' heralded freshmen could start in 2006-07.

Why the surprise? Wouldn't you figure guys recruited specifically to play Pearl's up-tempo offense and full-court defense would have an edge over guys recruited and coached to play Buzzball? In addition to being better fits for Pearl's system, the rookies are better athletes than the Buzz Peterson holdovers. That's why it's a virtual lock two of the newcomers will start in the season ahead.

Here's the way I see things playing out:

POINT: Minus four-year starter C.J. Watson, it's inevitable Tennessee will have an inexperienced starter at lead guard this winter. Knowing this, opponents will press the Vols early in the season. That's why I believe the starter will be the guy who handles full-court pressure best among freshmen Ramar Smith (6-2), Marques Johnson (6-6) and Josh Tabb (6-4). Junior Jordan Howell (6-2) has nice shooting range and some SEC experience, so he could play a bigger role than most fans expect.

SHOOTING GUARD: This is the one sure thing on the team. Junior Chris Lofton might be the finest pure shooter in college basketball, and Pearl's offense depends on a few long-range bombers who can spread the defense. JaJuan Smith, another 6-2 junior, has exceptional quickness and defensive skills that make him the perfect complement to the offensive-minded Lofton. Howell, Johnson and Tabb could see some playing time at this position, as well.

SMALL FORWARD: Flashy 6-7 freshman Duke Crews should win the first-team job in preseason and start every game. Sophomore Tony Passley, 6-5 and blessed with a more polished perimeter game, will provide a nice change of pace in a backup capacity. Cameron Tatum, a 6-5 wing who committed to UT but has not yet achieved a suitable standardized test score, could be a factor at this spot, too.

POWER FORWARD: A freshman point guard will need some ball-handling help, which is why I think 6-4 senior Dane Bradshaw will retain the power forward job he held throughout the 2005-06 season. Dane has the dribbling/passing skills to help on the outside and the rebounding skills to help on the inside. Backing him will be freshman Wayne Chism, who is bigger (6-9, 245 pounds) and more athletic than Dane. Chism will play a lot … especially when Bradshaw is physically overmatched. Ryan Childress, a 6-9 sophomore, has experience at this position, as well.

POST: Because he is a solid defender with three years of SEC experience, 6-10 senior Major Wingate should hold off Chism and retain the starting post position. Chism will see considerable backup action, and Vol aide Tony Jones says Duke Crews will play some post, as well. Redshirt freshman Damion Harris will continue to develop.


POST: Major Wingate 6-10, Wayne Chism 6-9, Duke Crews 6-7, Damion Harris 6-10

POWER FORWARD: Dane Bradshaw 6-4, Chism 6-9, Ryan Childress 6-9

SMALL FORWARD: Crews 6-7, Tony Passley 6-5, Cameron Tatum 6-5

SHOOTING GUARD: Chris Lofton 6-2, JaJuan Smith 6-2, Josh Tabb 6-4

POINT GUARD: Ramar Smith 6-2, Marques Johnson 6-6, Jordan Howell 6-2

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