Veteran Vols open tonight

If experience really is the best teacher, Tennessee should be a well-schooled basketball team when it takes the floor for tonight's regular-season opener against Austin Peay.

Vol head coach Bruce Pearl is expected to start four seniors - Wayne Chism (6-9, 245), Tyler Smith (6-7, 220), J.P. Prince (6-8, 205) and Bobby Maze (6-2, 185), along with sophomore Scotty Hopson (6-7, 203).

Conversely, Tennessee fielded a senior-free lineup last season that lost five games by 3 points or less and dropped another one in overtime. Those six last-possession setbacks were the difference between a 27-7 record and a 21-13 record. So, the dramatic increase in senior leadership should pay dividends in 2009-10.

"I think that's going to help us a lot - having that experience," Maze said this week. "Last year we lost a lot of games at the end - Auburn, Alabama, Oklahoma State. It helps when you have seniors and experience in those type of games. With Tyler coming back, that's going to help us a lot, so that when we get in those situations that's going to help us get over the hump."

Smith, of course, postponed his NBA career to return for the 2009-10 Vol season. Also returning for the '09-10 season is the uptempo game Tennessee played in Pearl's first three seasons (2005-06 through 2007-08) at the helm.

"It's exciting," Maze noted. "We feel like we are a terrific basketball team. We're seniors and, with the underclassmen, we feel like we have what it takes. The style we play is going to put us in better positions than last year. We're going to turn teams over."

Although the 2008-09 team was Pearl's tallest and most athletic, it was his worst defensive team. Tennessee's fullcourt press produced more breakaway layups for the opponents than backcourt turnovers for the Vols, eventually forcing the coach to scrap the press for the most part. Now the press is back ... but only if the Vols play it with the same fervor that the 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08 teams did.

"We watched film of previous teams that were here," Maze said. "We watched JaJuan Smith, Chris Lofton and C.J. Watson actually press the whole game, so everyone understands their position and what Coach wants on the floor. Now it's just about playing these games and seeing how things work out."

Starting with tonight's 9 o'clock tipoff against Austin Peay.

NOTES: Austin Peay split its preseason exhibition games, beating Oklahoma City 95-75 but losing 81-68 to Central Missouri last Saturday night in Clarksville. The Governors made just 2 of 17 shots from 3-point range in the latter. Tonight's game will be televised by SportSouth.

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