Thanks to the addition of transfer Tony Passley and five heralded freshmen, however, the 2006-07 Vols appear much better equipped to play the high-octane offense and full-court press defense Pearl loves. The six newcomers provide a much-needed infusion of athleticism and a significant upgrade in terms of depth.
"Where we might be better equipped is that we will have a little bit more depth in the backcourt," Pearl said during Tuesday's preseason media day. "Last year at point guard it was C.J. Watson and Jordan Howell. If we got in injury or foul trouble beyond that, there wasn't a third point guard."
"With Jordan Howell, Ramar Smith and Marques Johnson, there is now a third point guard," Pearl said.
There also is better depth at shooting guard, thanks to the arrival of rookie Josh Tabb.
"JaJuan Smith rotated behind Chris Lofton at the 2 last year, and those were the only two guys that played the position," Pearl said. "Now you have the luxury of maybe Josh Tabb being a third guy that can rotate in and compete at that position."
The small forward spot appears better fortified this season, as well. Passley is a perfect fit for the position, and Johnson could play there, as well.
"You had Stanley Asumnu and JaJuan Smith rotating down," Pearl noted of last year's lineup. "Now you add Tony Passley into the mix, and perhaps Marques Johnson."
Clearly, all three of the perimeter positions have more people capable of contributing this year. And the more people who contribute, the more likely the starters are to be fresh at game's end and/or season's end.
"At 1 through 3, we're just deeper," Pearl noted. "That will bode well when it comes to our style of play and our system and our attempt to wear our opponents down."
Unfortunately for Tennessee, the improved depth does not extend to the front court. The departure of Andre Patterson (graduation), Major Wingate (dismissal) and Damion Harris (transfer) leaves the Vols dangerously thin on the inside. The only returnees are 6-9 Ryan Childress and 6-4 Dane Bradshaw. Newcomers Wayne Chism and Duke Crews round out the frontline corps.
As Pearl noted: "I don't think there's any margin for error in the frontline."
THE INJURY REPORT: Junior guard Jordan Howell has what Pearl called "a slightly fractured finger" that likely will sideline him for a week and a half of preseason work.
"But we're OK," the coach said, "because we've got some depth in the backcourt. It helps Marques Johnson and Ramar Smith because they're going to get full reps at point guard. When Jordan comes back he'll be behind a little bit but he'll get caught up because of his experience."
THE TICKET REPORT: With a late push, Tennessee could set a program record for season ticket sales this year.
"We sold 9200 season tickets last year," Pearl said. "As of this morning we had sold 12,800 – an increase of 3600. The most the building (Thompson-Boling Arena) ever had was when it first opened at 13,900. We're 1100 behind that figure."
Pearl credits the boom in season ticket sales to "the expectations and the increased national television and a tremendous improvement in the schedule. We're going to have four Elite Eight teams in Knoxville (Florida, LSU, Memphis, Texas). That's unbelievable for our fans. They'll be able to see the finest in college basketball."