The Vols limited South Carolina to 5 of 21 on Jan. 12, limited Vanderbilt to 3 of 21 on Jan. 17, limited Ohio State to 2 of 20 on Jan. 19, limited Kentucky to 4 of 15 on Jan. 22 and limited Georgia to 4 of 22 last Saturday night.
After allowing SEC opponents to sink 35.2 percent of their 3-point tries last season, Tennessee is allowing league foes to make a minuscule 23.1 percent this season. The obvious question: Why?
The addition of a couple of rangy guys in 6-7 Tyler Smith and 6-8 J.P. Prince who can guard on the perimeter obviously helps. The fact the Vols have had another year to adjust to UT's defensive system and to one another is a contributing factor, as well.
Still, head coach Bruce Pearl believes the primary answer is pretty basic.
"I think it starts and ends with our ball pressure," he said.
Obviously, that's a credit to guards Chris Lofton, Ramar Smith, JaJuan Smith and Jordan Howell, who do most of the defending on the perimeter. It's also a credit to the inside guys – Wayne Chism, Tyler Smith, Duke Crews, Brian Williams and Ryan Childress. They don't require a lot of help on the interior, freeing the guards to concentrate on shutting down the outside shot.
"I think it speaks to the ability we've had to defend the post," Pearl said of UT's dazzling 3-point defensive numbers. "We've let our post men play a little bit more one-on-one down in there, making people score over us."
Tennessee generally fronts the opposing post in an effort to deny him the ball. If the Vol defender can't deny the entry pass, he then tries to deny the opponent a path to the basket.
"We try to make it difficult for the post to catch it," Pearl noted. "Then, when he does catch it, we don't want to give him angles to score."
Tennessee's inside players have done such an exceptional job of doing these things this season that they've needed very little assistance from Vol guards.
"We haven't had to come down off the perimeter much (to provide help inside)," Pearl said, "which is part of the reason we've guarded the 3 well."
Yet another reason for Tennessee's success defending the perimeter shot is that its inside players are agile enough to contest the 3, even when an opposing forward or post player steps outside to launch one.
"At all five positions we're able to get up on the ball and press up," Pearl said. "If Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism are our power forwards, they're quick enough to guard any power forward in the league, from the standpoint of pressing up on the perimeter."
The coach said Chism will be playing some power forward now that Crews is back from a six-week layoff due to a heart condition. Like Chism, Crews has the quickness and athleticism to defend the 3-point shot.
As Pearl noted: "Wayne Chism, Duke Crews, Brian Williams and Ryan Childress are all able to get up and move their feet on the perimeter."
As a result, Alabama will be hard pressed to drain another dozen 3s Tuesday night.