Transitional phase

When a basketball team changes point guards its entire offense changes. No one knows that better than fans of the Tennessee Vols.

Remember how the Big Orange looked last year when Ramar Smith was leading the attack? Remember how drastically things changed when Jordan Howell took over the point duties? Remember how the offense took on yet another look during J.P. Prince's late-season stint running the show?

There will be a similarly dramatic change on offense in 2008-09. Smith transferred. Howell graduated. Prince appears a better fit at small forward than the point. Junior college transfer Bobby Maze is the new point guard, backed by freshman Daniel West (if he is granted eligibility by the NCAA Clearinghouse). Prince is the emergency plan.

Maze never ran the Vol attack before this year. Nor did West. Prince's experience as UT's point guard consists of two starts last March after he played almost exclusively at forward previously.

"There will be a new point guard," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl noted recently. "It'll be Bobby Maze, Daniel West, J.P. Prince ... those guys are battling it out for that position."

Maze, West and Prince are quality athletes with the quickness to ignite Tennessee's high-speed transition offense. It's when the Vols are forced to run their half-court attack that the adjustment issues are likely to arise.

"When you run a fast break it's basketball. When you put in an offense, it's a different world if it's the first time you've seen this offense," Pearl conceded. "That's true with almost any offense."

Because fast-break basketball is more about filling lanes and running hard than making cuts and executing plays, Maze, West and Prince should have little difficulty when the Vols are runnin' and gunnin'.

"We'll be fine playing fast," Pearl said. "But can we play half-court offensively? I'm not sure. We've got a lot of work to do because of all the new pieces. That's the area we'll struggle the most in early."

Because Tennessee's 2008-09 players are longer and more athletic than their predecessors, you'd think the Vols would rely more heavily than ever on full-court pressure. That may not be the case, however.

"We're going to have to continue to make offense out of our defense," Pearl noted. "People ask how much pressing we're going to do this year. We're longer but we're not quicker. Because we are bigger, I think we'll be a better half-court defensive team. We'll be a better rebounding team, therefor we should be a better fast-breaking team because we'll be able to control our backboards, get out and go.

"Whether this team is able to press as effectively as my first year, I don't know. We're just not as quick. We've got more traditional size, and sometimes it's harder to press and speed tempo up in that regard."


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