So, with the Vols off to the best start in program history (26-3) and with more depth than ever before, you'd think the Vols were a terrific pressing team.
Tennessee's isn't forcing as many turnovers as Pearl would like, although the season average is 19 and the Vols lead the SEC in turnover margin (6.17) and steals (9.66). And it's giving up too many easy baskets once a team beats the press.
What grade would Pearl give UT's press?
A C to a C-plus.
But the press hasn't been as big a factor as some might think.
``It's been average,'' Pearl said. ``I didn't think we'd be a great pressing team,''
``I think people thought because we were deeper, we'd be a better pressing team,'' said Pearl, who understood that logic.
Despite the added depth, Pearl said he never said the Vols would press more. There was something about the team's makeup that concerned him.
``As to why, I'd rather not say because that gets into the scouting report for the other team,'' Pearl said.
So what are the reasons?
Pearl's only hint: ``It has to do with personnel.''
Maybe it's not having a tough-enough defender on the in-bounds pass, like a Major Wingate. Maybe it's not having a defender to stop a team when it breaks the press. Maybe it's being inconsistent doubling the ball once it is in-bounded.
The only thing we know for sure is, it's not because of depth.
Pearl figured last summer his team wouldn't be that efficient at pressing. That's why he put more emphasis on half-court defense and rebounding.
``You can only be good at so many things,'' Pearl reasoned.
The half-court defense and rebounding have improved. And the press has been used more infrequently.
But the press might rear its head at Florida on Wednesday night.
Why? Because Florida doesn't have a veteran ball-handler like Bradley to run the point. Bradley controlled tempo against Tennessee. Florida freshman Nick Calathes leads the SEC in assists, but he's more susceptible to full-court pressure. So is the entire Florida roster.
In the first meeting between the teams, won by UT 104-82, each Florida starter had at least three turnovers as the Gators had 20 miscues. Florida also went from shooting 64.3 percent in the first half to 41.7 percent in the second half and wore down in the final eight minutes.
While it's common knowledge point guard Jordan Howell has been in a slump – he's hit 2 of his last 23 field-goal attempts – JaJuan Smith has also been off the mark. In the last seven games, JaJuan has hit 13-of-46 shots overall, 7-of-31 from 3-point range. He didn't score in the second half against Kentucky.
But that's not as big of an issue for Pearl as point guard. Pearl played J.P. Prince about three minutes at the point against Kentucky and is considering giving the long, athletic Arizona transfer more time at running the offense.
``Jordan Howell needs to make shots,'' Pearl said. ``Is that putting pressure on him? That's his job. He needs to take shots. Don't be afraid to pull the trigger.''
Howell's point guard role on offense is to hit the three and set up the attack.
Prince isn't an outside shooter – he's made 2-of-11 from long range this season. So, he'll be asked to use his size to see over the defense and make entry passes, or drive to the basket and score or dish. To date, when he drives, he shoots. He needs to develop his passing skills when he's driving.
That likely will come. But will it come in time to help Tennessee at tournament time? That's debatable.
``It could make us a lot better or be a distraction,'' Pearl said.
It is a gamble, but one Pearl seems willing to take.
DONOVAN PRAISES TYLER SMITH
Florida coach Billy Donovan said there isn't a player in the SEC that has a greater impact ona game than Tyler Smith.
Donovan made the comment when asked about SEC Player of the Year candidates.
Smith is averaging 13.4 points, and leads the team in rebounds (6.8), assists (103) and field-goal percentage (.533). He is second in steals and blocks.
Pearl said he agrees with Donovan's comment.
``We've not spent a lot of time talking about the Dane Bradshaw hangover,'' Pearl said. ``He was the captain of the All-Glue team and led us in assists.''
Bradshaw helped set up Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith for shots. Tyler Smith has done that and more, proving to be a better rebounder and scorer.
``Plus he's won games for us late,'' Pearl said. ``He's adjusting to driving the ball to the basket. He's adjusting to making plays against a zone.''
And he's been Tennessee's most valuable player.