Tuesday, for instance, the Vols were the smaller team when they took the floor against "little brother" UT-Chattanooga. The Moccasins started a front line that measured 6-8, 6-7, 6-7. Tennessee countered with a three-guard lineup whose three tallest players measured 6-7, 6-7, 6-2.
The Vols sometimes manage to compensate for their lack of size via positioning and aggressiveness on the backboards. That wasn't the case vs. UTC, which outrebounded Tennessee by a whopping 46-31 margin.
"The biggest concern is the way we got physically dominated on the boards," Pearl conceded on his post-game show.
That's not a new experience, though. The 2006-07 Vols were killed on the boards in regular-season losses to North Carolina (54-30), Ohio State (46-29) and Kentucky (42-27). In a three-game stretch last February they were outrebounded in consecutive games by Alabama (52-41), Arkansas (38-30) and Florida (36-25), yet won all three.
"We were undersized a year ago," Pearl said. "We've been undersized for two years."
The 2006-07 Vols weren't just undersized ... they were grossly undersized. Essentially, they played a four-guard lineup, although 6-4 Dane Bradshaw was listed as a power forward. Now that Bradshaw has moved on, the 2007-08 Vols are bigger ... but not by much. The starting five this year consists of 6-7 Duke Crews, 6-7 Tyler Smith, 6-2 JaJuan Smith, 6-2 Chris Lofton and 6-2 Jordan Howell.
"Here's the problem: The only change in the lineup is that Tyler Smith is in there for Dane Bradshaw," Pearl said. "Tyler's three or four inches taller than Dane. That's it. Everybody else is back. We're undersized at 2 with Chris. We're undersized at 3 with JaJuan. We're undersized at 5 with Duke. And most nights we're undersized with a 6-7 power forward."
"I'm not complaining," the coach added. "But we're going to get manhandled a little bit. We're going to get beat on the boards."
Pearl can accept losing the backboard battle if his undersized lineup succeeds in other areas – playing scrappy full-court pressure, for instance. That was the key in Tuesday's 76-70 defeat of UT-Chattanooga. As the head man noted, the Vols are OK "when you can turn somebody over 34 times and create that kind of offense from your defense."
If Tennessee is to improve significantly in terms of rebounding, it must get more from Crews and fellow sophomore Wayne Chism, a 6-9, 240-pounder. Chism averaged 5.2 rebounds per game last year and Crews 5.1. Against UTC, however, Chism had just 2 rebounds and Crews 4.
Pearl noted that Crews is "playing better defensively," adding: "I don't like the fact he's not rebounding the ball but we need his presence."
That's a fact. Crews was plus-16 vs. the Moccasins, meaning the Vols outscored their hosts by 16 points while he was on the floor. The Vols were outscored by 10 when he was not on the floor.