Better D for UT

There were two obvious problems for Tennessee's basketball team last season:

One, the fullcourt defense was lame.

Two, the halfcourt defense wasn't much better.

The Vols addressed both problems during the offseason, and the progress has been significant so far.

Tennessee ranked 11th among the 12 SEC teams in scoring defense a year ago, allowing 72.5 points per game. The 2009-10 Vols are allowing just 61.4 points per game.

Tennessee ranked 10th among SEC teams in field-goal defense a year ago, allowing opponents to shoot 44.3 percent. The 2009-10 Vols are allowing foes to shoot just 38.0 percent.

Tennessee ranked seventh among SEC teams in 3-point defense a year ago, allowing opponents to shoot 33.7 percent. The 2009-10 Vols are allowing foes to shoot just 30.2 percent.

Basically, Tennessee is giving up fewer breakaway layups in its fullcourt press and giving up fewer open looks in its halfcourt defense this year. That's one of the key reasons why the Vols are 6-1 and ranked No. 9 nationally this week.

"I think we're a much smarter defensive team," head coach Bruce Pearl noted. "I think the guys have a much greater understanding. And I think we're a more physical defensive team."

Obviously, Tennessee's stats are somewhat skewed by the fact the Vols have faced non-conference opposition to date. Only two of the first seven foes - DePaul and Purdue - are on par with the teams UT will face once league play begins in January. Still, Pearl is encouraged.

"Our halfcourt defense has improved," he said. "We'll be more and more challenged by the teams we go up against but I see some improvement.

"As far as fullcourt defense, I think we have a greater understanding. I don't know that we've executed as well as I'd like to see us execute. We're in better positions but I don't think we're making as many plays as I'd like to see us make in the fullcourt."

One reason the Vols are better defensively than a year ago is that they are more experienced than a year ago. Last season Pearl's rotation featured five newcomers - juco transfer Bobby Maze, plus freshmen Scotty Hopson, Cameron Tatum, Renaldo Woolridge and Emmanuel Negedu. Those guys are significantly better in Year 2.

"We have a greater understanding," Pearl conceded. "Whether or not we physically can get there and get the job done is still to be determined but I think we've made progress."

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