The Vols scored at will in trouncing California-Pennsylvania 106-46 last Friday night in their exhibition opener. Still, Tyler Smith thought it was defense – not offense – that got Tennessee off to a blazing 46-16 start en route to the romp.
"Coach (Bruce Pearl) has been preaching defense the whole time we've been practicing," Smith said. "We just wanted to come in and show Coach that we're trying to improve. He says we haven't improved enough to where he's satisfied but we're showing him we're trying to get to where we need to be on defense and do what we need to do."
One problem with Tennessee's defense in 2006-07 was a glaring lack of size. The Vols started a 6-9 post, a 6-4 power forward and three 6-2 guards. The addition of 6-10 freshman Brian Williams, 6-7 Iowa transfer Tyler Smith and 6-6 freshman Cameron Tatum for 2007-08 has provided a tremendous boost in terms of size and athleticism.
"We've been trying to do some things defensively to improve," Pearl conceded. "I do think our length is a factor. The three new guys – Cameron, Tyler and Brian – are all bigger and longer at their positions, so that could help us defensively. That could help us build that wall, block more shots and change more shots on the inside. Length is good."
Ten Vols saw at least 13 minutes of action Friday night. Wayne Chism, who missed the exhibition opener due to a concussion, practiced Sunday and will join the mix tonight. Still, Pearl isn't planning to go with an 11-man rotation.
"I think 10 is probably the number," the head man said. "I don't know that we look to go any more than that in the regular rotation. I've done it once before but I would say 10 is about as much as you can get."
That could mean a reduced role for Steven Pearl, although the head coach's son played well in 23 reserve minutes vs. California-Pennsylvania. Maintaining a 10-man rotation will be further complicated when Duke Crews returns from a sprained ankle. Splitting the minutes will get really complex in January, when Arizona transfer J.P. Prince becomes eligible.
Even with Chism available for duty tonight, Williams will make his second start in the post. The 6-10, 267-pound freshman contributed 12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocked shots last week in an impressive debut.
Tennessee opens the regular season this Friday, hosting Temple in another 7:30 tipoff.