Pearl may go 10-deep

If the Tennessee Basketball Vols achieve the lofty heights projected for them this season, they will do so with depth.

During Bruce Pearl's first two years at the helm, his high-energy style of play clearly exhausted Tennessee's opponents. The problem was, it often took a toll on Tennessee's players, as well.

The frantic pace routinely drained the Vols in 2005-06, when Pearl basically used a seven-man rotation. It sometimes drained the Vols in 2006-07, when he basically used an eight-man rotation.

The depth situation in 2007-08 should be drastically different. Eight of last season's top nine players return. They're joined by two transfers – J.P. Prince (Arizona) and Tyler Smith (Iowa) – along with two freshmen – Cameron Tatum and Brian Williams. That gives Pearl a dozen scholarship players at his disposal. Odds are, he'll give 10 of them meaningful minutes each game.

"We've gone eight or nine (deep) the last couple of years," he said this week. "I can see us going nine or 10 this year."

Obviously, dividing 200 minutes of playing time among 10 players is a tougher task than dividing 200 minutes among seven or eight players ... especially when common sense dictates giving All-America guard Chris Lofton at least 30 minutes per game.

"The disadvantage would be that you could wind up with some lineups out there where you might be lacking some offense," Pearl said, adding that another problem could be the difficulty of "guys getting in a rhythm, getting a feel for the game and so forth."

Still, the drawbacks of a 10-man rotation seem inconsequential when compared to the inherent advantages.

"I think the benefits far outweigh the negatives," Pearl said. "You can withstand foul trouble. You can withstand injury. You certainly have an opportunity to wear people down late in the half and late in the game, which has been a part of our system. I think that does bode well."

There were times in 2006-07 when Tennessee struggled to score while Lofton was resting, struggled to defend while JaJuan Smith was resting or struggled to rebound while Wayne Chism was resting. Still, Pearl never hesitated to give his substitutes some playing time. It's part of his philosophy.

"Coaches want to complain about their lack of depth all the time," he said. "I know some tremendous college basketball programs that have six McDonald's All-Americans sitting on the bench and not playing, looking down there and going, 'When am I going to get in?'

"I don't have six McDonald's All-Americans on my bench. I don't have five McDonald's All-Americans out there starting on the floor. But we are committed to playing our bench. It's part of our system.

"We play our young guys, and we play 'em early. Wayne Chism and Duke Crews played 20 minutes a game last year. They were first-team All-SEC (Freshman) players, and they played 20 minutes a game. Part of it is a commitment to playing 10 out of those 13 guys."

An even larger part of the equation is having 10 guys capable of contributing. For the first time in his Tennessee tenure, Bruce Pearl has that luxury.


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