Vols to pick up pace

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl basically spent the 2008-09 season with his foot tapping the brake pedal. He hopes to spend the 2009-10 season pressing the accelerator.

Whereas Pearl's first three Vol teams pressed like crazy and ran like the wind, last year's squad didn't press as much, didn't run as much and didn't prove nearly as much fun to watch.

Well, happy days are here again ... maybe.

With more speed and experience in the backcourt, Tennessee may revert to form and do more pressing and running in 2009-10 than it did in 2008-09.

"We're always working on trying to improve defensively," Pearl said. "We're going to try to extend the defense a little bit more this year, try to press a little bit more and play the game at the tempo that we like to play.

"We didn't feel like we had the experience or quickness at guard to dictate tempo last year. Not always were we best playing fast. Sometimes we were a little better playing slower."

That became obvious as the season progressed. Although point guard Bobby Maze had the quickness and defensive skills to excel in the press, true freshman Scotty Hopson and redshirt freshman Cameron Tatum were new to Pearl's system and didn't fully grasp the commitment level needed to apply full-court pressure. Moreover, Tatum was playing on two bad knees and backup point guard Josh Tabb wasn't the fastest guy on the roster.

Now Hopson and Tatum are a year smarter. Tatum's knees are a lot healthier and speedy juco transfer Melvin Goins will be competing with Maze at point guard. The Vols appear much more capable of pressing and running this winter than they were last winter.

"In the big scheme of things," Pearl said, "if we're going to take advantage of our depth and have a chance to beat some of the teams we're not supposed to beat, we've got to get back into that form of play."

Nothing would please the coach more than to set a frantic tempo that opponents cannot match.

"Transition defense is still very difficult," Pearl said. "People don't get back well, and we want to take advantage of that, so we have committed to playing at that pace."

Even with a slower pace, Tennessee led the SEC in scoring last year - marking the 16th time in 17 seasons Pearl's team has led its league in points-per-game average. The 2008-09 Vols just didn't seem as active and energetic as they had in previous years.

"We just lost a little bit of our aggression," Pearl said.

That reduction in aggression produced a dramatic reduction in steals, which produced a dramatic reduction in transition baskets.

"I'd like to try to pick it up," Pearl said, referring to the team's offensive pace. "But in order to do that you have got to turn people over. We were eighth in the league in steals last year after being first or second my first three years."

The head man believes he has enough experience and quickness in his backcourt to press more and run more this season. The key is forcing enough backcourt chaos that opponents struggle to get the ball into frontcourt.

"You use pressure defense to create 50-50 balls ... to create situations where the ball has as much chance to be ours as it does the opponent's," Pearl said. "JaJuan Smith, Ramar Smith, Chris Lofton, Jordan Howell and those guys got a lot of those 50-50 balls. Last year, with three or four new guards, we didn't, so that's why we gave up on it.

"Without question, we're trying to bring it back, and I think our team understands that."

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