Dynamic depth helps Vols

The Tennessee basketball team has a lot of depth this season, which is a good thing and a bad thing.

It's a good thing because head coach Bruce Pearl has the luxury of resting his starters when fatigue sets in.

It's a good thing because Pearl has an able body to plug in whenever a key player gets hurt. For instance, J.P. Prince (ankle) will miss tonight's 8:30 Central tipoff with Marquette in the SEC/Big East Invitational at the Sommet Center in Nashville.

It's a good thing because Pearl can bench or suspend a player who breaks team rules without dooming his team to defeat.

"Whether it be injury or discipline, I have the luxury as a coach to do the right thing, whether it's in our best interest or not as a team," Pearl said. "When we're playing well, I really have the ability to do the right thing."

The problem with depth, however, is that there are only 200 minutes of playing time in a game – five players on the court for 40 minutes – and dividing them among 10 players is difficult. That's why Pearl tends to give most of the playing time to seven players.

"The key is that the guys in that 8-9-10 slot, their minutes are inconsistent," the head man said. "The top seven or eight guys are fairly consistent in their minutes. Those other guys' minutes are inconsistent, so they've got to stay ready to come in and contribute in situations. Those guys have to be ready to step in and step up. For the most part, they have."

Tennessee's depth paid dividends in defeats of Siena and Georgetown at the Old Spice Classic at Orlando earlier this month.

"We go to Disney and Tyler (Smith) is in foul trouble in the first game, but we survive," Pearl noted. "Then in the second game Wayne (Chism) is in foul trouble and we survive. That's a function of our depth."

Through eight games the 6-2 Vols' depth is evident in the minutes-per-game statistic.

Tyler Smith averages a team-high 29.1 minutes per game. Point guard Bobby Maze follows at 26.1. Prince checks in at 23.0, even though he has started just one game. Scotty Hopson (20.6) and Wayne Chism (19.6) average playing roughly half of each game.

Super sub Cameron Tatum averages 18.9 minutes. Renaldo Woolridge has started seven of eight games but averages just 15.9 minutes. Brian Williams (15.7) follows close behind.

Batting for their minutes are Josh Tabb (14.2) and Emmanuel Negedu (11.3). Some nights they play a lot. Some nights they play very little. That's not an easy role to play but it's an important role sometimes.

As Pearl put it: "Those guys just need to do what they do ... stay ready."

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