Turning up the heat

At its core, Tennessee's basketball philosophy is pretty simple: If you force more turnovers than you commit, you'll get more scoring opportunities than your opponent.

That basic premise worked beautifully in 2007-08. The Vols forced 657 turnovers and committed just 474 en route to notching a school-record 31 victories.

A youthful UT squad is having trouble following the formula in 2008-09, however. Through the first 11 games the Vols have committed more turnovers (170) than they've forced (169). They caused just 10 in Game 7 vs. UNC Asheville, 10 more in Game 8 vs. Temple and a season-low 8 in Game 10 vs. Belmont.

Tennessee's fullcourt press, incredibly effective in head coach Bruce Pearl's first three seasons at the Vol helm, has been disappointing this year. As a result, the head man decided to amp up the pressure on inbounds plays in Game 11 vs. Louisiana last Monday night. The ploy worked, as the Vols forced 22 turnovers and converted these into 31 points in an 89-62 romp. Pearl was understandably encouraged.

"We talked about trying to force more turnovers, and we talked about where we could force them," the head man said. "We're not forcing as many, so where can we force them? The answer came in our pressure – our under-basket out-of-bounds defense and our side out-of-bounds defense (with) a little bit of the fullcourt defense."

Tennessee's lineup is longer, leaner and faster than in the past, so the Vols are built for transition basketball. It's difficult to run a transition offense, however, unless you can force turnovers and long rebounds. That's why UT's success contesting inbounds plays vs. Louisiana was so gratifying.

"We really focused on some of those end-line, sideline set pieces and forced 22, created tempo and got out in transition," Pearl noted. "I thought at times we had really good energy because of that."

Josh Tabb, a 6-4 junior, believes Tennessee has the potential to be an outstanding defensive team this season in spite of its youth and inexperience.

"Last year we turned teams over a lot, and we're a little faster than we was last year," he said. "This year, besides me and Bobby (6-2 Bobby Maze), everybody's 6-5 and over, so all we've got to do is keep those hands out and deflect balls.

"We've got to be the quickest to the ball."

That's because you can't run a transition attack without the basketball. And the quickest way to get the ball is via turnovers.


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