Both Duke Crews and Wayne Chism played well enough in preseason to warrant first-team consideration. Crews hit 10 of 13 shots in the two exhibition games and totaled 23 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Chism's numbers were very similar. He made 12 of 18 and totaled 29 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Which one makes the opening lineup Friday night? It really doesn't matter because Pearl expects each to play roughly half of the game.
"So who starts – Duke or Wayne?" Pearl asked rhetorically. "They're both good players. Give me 40 minutes of Duke AND Wayne. Together, those guys want to be the best '5 man' on the court."
Crews and Chism have the size and strength to play post defense. They have the moves and touch to score around the basket. The have the agility and toughness to rebound. The only aspect of their games that has been lacking is foul shooting. Crews hit 3 of 9 free throws in the two exhibitions, while Chism made 4 of 12.
Pearl conceded that the freshman post players must improve their free-throw accuracy since "those guys are going to get fouled." He believes they will make the necessary progress, however.
"It's not for lack of trying," the coach said. "It's bothering them a little bit. Wayne's a really, really good shooter but he's never been a good free-throw shooter.
"Duke will make ‘em when they count because he's got that kind of toughness. He's not as good an outside shooter as Wayne but he's mentally tough and he'll will those (free throws) in."
As a team, Tennessee made just 29 of 55 foul shots (52.7 percent) in its two exhibitions. That's quite a drop-off from last year, when the Vols shot 70.1 percent to rank third among the 12 SEC teams.
"We were a good free-throw shooting team last year because C.J. went to the line all the time," Pearl said, referring to point guard C.J. Watson. "It doesn't matter who your free-throw shooting coach is, when C.J.'s going to the line versus two freshman inside players who are not as good free-throw shooters."
The post isn't the only position without a clearcut starter. Ramar Smith will start at the point vs. Middle Tennessee but he and fellow freshman Marques Johnson will split the playing time roughly 50/50, much as Crews and Chism will in the post.
The other three starting spots are locked up – Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith at the wings, with Bradshaw at power forward. Anthony Passley and Josh Tabb will see action as backup wings, while the afore-mentioned Childress will spell Bradshaw at power forward.
Pearl gave seven players most of the minutes last year. He suggests that 10 players will see significant playing time this year.
"Our five will be challenged to beat a lot of teams on our schedule," he said. "But our 10 could beat a lot of people on our schedule."