Pearl and The Spread

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl runs an offensive system that is the basketball equivalent of football's Spread offense.

Much as The Spread offense in football is designed to create operating room by making the defense cover the entire field, Pearl's flex offense is designed to create operating room by making the defense cover the entire floor. That's why Pearl makes such a fuss about "spacing."

The Spread principle works in both football and basketball if you manage to actually "spread" the defense. Florida has won two of the past three national titles in football playing Urban Meyer's version of The Spread. With the right athletes in the right spots, his 2008 team averaged a whopping 43.6 points per game, went 13-1 and got him a hefty raise.

Of course, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville ran The Spread last fall, as well. He didn't have the right athletes in the right spots, however. As a result, his 2008 team averaged a paltry 17.3 points per game, went 5-7 and got him a pink slip.

The same principle applies in basketball: If you have the athletes to spread your opponent by forcing it to defend a wider area, you create openings that can be exploited. If you don't have the athletes to spread your opponent, you're probably going to struggle.

Tennessee had the athletes to spread opposing defenses in Pearl's first three years at the helm. Because of their long-range shooting skills, guards Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith were two of the SEC's finest at spreading a defense.

Now that Lofton and Smith have exhausted their eligibility, however, the Vols no longer have the ability to spread a defense. As a result, Tennessee's 2008-09 basketball team is as predictable (and easy to defend) as Auburn's 2008 football team was. Opponents simply pack the lane and dare the Vols to score from the perimeter.

Here's the key: Spreading your offense only works if you force the defense to spread, as well. Auburn's football team didn't manage to do that last fall. Tennessee's basketball team isn't managing to do that this winter.

Until Tennessee finds a way to effectively spread the floor, the gap between opposing defenders and the basket will continue to tighten ... and the gap between the Vols and SEC East leader Kentucky will continue to widen.


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