Bangin' the boards

After being outrebounded in seven of the nine games Duke Crews missed due to heart concerns, Tennessee's basketball team has won the backboard battle in all seven games since Crews returned.

That's no coincidence, but Crews doesn't deserve all of the credit for the team's newfound prowess on the glass. The return of the 6-7, 233-pounder has enabled 6-9, 242-pound Wayne Chism to occasionally move to power forward. With Chism at the 4 spot and either Crews or 6-10, 270-pound freshman Brian Williams at the 5 spot, Tennessee now finds itself capable of matching opponents size-wise on the inside much better than it has previously.

As a result, the Vols' rebounding has made marked improvement in recent weeks. Since losing the backboards 36-27 at Kentucky on Jan. 22, Tennessee has outrebounded Georgia (40-37), Alabama (45-36), Mississippi State (42-32), Florida (39-31), LSU (39-38), Arkansas (38-36) and Georgia (45-41) in succession. The Vols will try to make it eight straight tonight, when they host Auburn at 7:30 in Thompson-Boling Arena.

"We're bigger than we were the previous two years, especially with Wayne Chism playing some power forward," head coach Bruce Pearl explained. "It hasn't received a lot of attention but Wayne plays two positions, so he's on the floor much of the time with Brian Williams or Duke Crews."

Another factor that has boosted Tennessee's backboard play lately is the emergence of 6-8 J.P. Prince, who has been sharing time with 6-2 JaJuan Smith at the wing spot opposite Chris Lofton.

"With J.P. Prince playing some at the three spot, we have more traditional height," Pearl noted. "I think that has helped us do a better job rebounding."

Although Crews' return has been a tremendous boost for the Vols, it also has created a minor problem. He's taken away minutes previously reserved for Ryan Childress. Now that Childress is back from a bout with the flu, Pearl faces a dilemma:

Does he take away minutes from Duke Crews?

Does he take away minutes from Brian Williams?

Does he let Childress squirm on the bench?

Pearl concedes that his player rotation is working out "pretty well" lately but that "The difficult part is deciding whether to play Brian Williams or Ryan Childress. That's been a real tough call."

It's going to be even tougher now that Childress is healthy again.

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