Crashing the boards

Despite a vertically challenged lineup that includes a 6-7 player, a 6-4 player and three 6-2 players, the Tennessee Vols lead the Southeastern Conference in offensive rebounding at 14.87 per game.

There are several reasons for this surprising development:

Coach Bruce Pearl encourages guards Ramar Smith, JaJuan Smith and Josh Tabb – three exceptional leapers – to crash the boards. This can leave the Vols with poor floor balance, enabling the opponent to score a breakaway basket, but Pearl figures it's worth the risk.

"There are trade-offs," he said. "Offensive rebounding has been a big factor for us but you do give things up."

Another reason for Tennessee's strong offensive rebounding is the emphasis the head man puts on it.

"Before every game, that's the first thing Coach Pearl says to us," junior guard Jordan Howell said. "He tells us: 'I don't care if you box out. I want to know if you get the rebound. You go get the rebound. No matter what happens, you go get it.' The emphasis he puts on it has made everybody a better rebounder and made everybody more accountable."

Another reason for Tennessee's improved work on the offensive backboard is the Vols' improved muscle mass.

"We've got a great strength coach in Troy Wills," Howell said, "and he's got us all stronger than last year, so we hit the glass a little harder this year."

Senior forward Dane Bradshaw thinks there's another factor that may be contributing to the high number of offensive rebounds.

"Maybe we need to shoot the ball better (so there won't be so many offensive rebound opportunities)," he said with a laugh.

Turning serious, he added: "I think we have a pretty good focus on getting the ball inside, and inside shots lead to inside rebounds. We definitely have some beasts down there with Wayne Chism and Duke Crews.

"Also, with as many 3's as we hoist up, that can lead to some long rebounds that are kind of equal opportunities for offense and defense."

Crews, who ranks third among all SEC players in offensive rebounds with 3.3 per game, had five of them – compared to just one defensive rebound – in Sunday's defeat of Mississippi State. The rugged freshman credits his success to anticipation.

"Practicing with these guys, you know when they shoot where the ball's going to come off, so I just try to get in that spot," he said. "If they shoot from the left side of the floor I try to get to the right side of the floor ... you know, backside rebounds. Long shots normally go off the far side, so I just try to get in position and make plays."

Apparently, this strategy doesn't work as well on the other end of the court. The Vols rank 10th among the 12 SEC teams in defensive rebounds, averaging just 23.27 per game.

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